Monday, April 4, 2011

Crossing the Divide: The Harlem Globetrotters (1)

In the early 1950s, Ziff-Davis published Bill Stern's Sports Book, a comic book in the sports genre. Volume 2 # 2 (Winter, 1952) was a 100 page square bound 25c comic, and contained several stories featuring African American sports stars. The first in the book (and the hardest to scan!) was about the origins of the Harlem Globetrotters. Drawn by Everett Raymond Kinstler, it's an artistic gem, but it's also an interesting read as it follows the early exploits of the world's most famous basketball team. What's important to remember is that this comic was published during the period when segregation was still in force in the USA. The Globetrotters are another example of African American sports personalities who were able to induce members of the majority population previously entrenched in a dualistic stance on race, at least to some extent traverse the race barrier. Like all African American sports personalities of the time, in addition to having to make a name for themselves in their field, the Globetrotters had thrust upon them the responsibility of representing the African American community or 'race' as a whole, an unwholesome burden inflicted by a society divided along racial lines.

For sportsmen like the Harlem Globetrotters, that hard-earned recognition made its own contribution to breaking down the race barrier, even though such representation should never have been necessary in the first place. But that was how American society had evolved at the time, on its road towards making the words of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States become a reality. Looks like the Globetrotters also had the privilege of being some of the first people to have their portraits drawn by Kinstler, for whom several U.S. Presidents have subsequently sat! Kinstler nowadays is recognized as one of the greatest portrait artists of all time.

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