Visitors ages 12 and older are required to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19. Learn more >




The Black Fives
Exhibition on View March 14 – July 20, 2014

NEW YORK, NY (January 30, 2014) – A new exhibition opening this spring at the New-York Historical Society will celebrate a forgotten era in sports history. On view from March 14 through July 20, 2014, The Black Fives will explore the pioneering African-American basketball teams that existed in New York City and elsewhere from the early 1900s through 1950, the year the National Basketball Association became racially integrated.

Soon after the game of basketball was invented in 1891, teams were often called “fives” in reference to their five starting players. Teams made up entirely of African-American players were referred to as “colored fives,” “Negro fives,” or “black fives,” and the period became known as the Black Fives Era. From its amateur beginnings, dozens of all-black professional teams emerged during the Black Fives Era in New York City, Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, and other cities with a substantial African-American population.

A collaborative partnership between the New-York Historical Society and the Black Fives Foundation, the exhibition is as much about the forward progress of black culture as a whole as it is about the history of basketball. The Black Fives is drawn primarily from the Foundation’s collection and will feature artifacts, memorabilia, photographs, ephemera and other historical materials from the Black Fives Era. The exhibition is organized by guest curator Claude Johnson, a historian and author who is the founder and executive director of the Black Fives Foundation, and coordinating curator Stephen Edidin, Chief Curator & Curator of American & European Art of the New-York Historical Society.

Exhibition Highlights
Highlights of The Black Fives include archival images of the earliest African American basketball teams, including the Alpha Physical Culture Club, the nation’s first all-black athletic club (1912); the New York Girls, the first all-black female team (1910); and team photos of the New York Renaissance (also known as the “Harlem Rens”), Smart Set Athletic Club, Harlem Globetrotters, and the Washington Bears.

Among the exhibition’s unique pieces are a 1914 gold-leafed basketball medallion promoting the St. Christopher Club of Harlem; a 1937 New York Renaissance vs. Oshkosh All Stars game ticket stub; and a complete collection of event programs for the World’s Championship of Professional Basketball played from 1939-1948 and won by three different African American teams.

The Black Fives will also feature vintage African American basketball ephemera, such as newspaper broadsheets and clippings, scrapbooks, game placards and flyers, such as a 1943 official souvenir program for the “5th Annual World’s Championship Basketball Tournament”; a 1912 “Pittsburgh vs. New York” advertisement for the Annual Christmas Basketball Games and Dance of the Alpha Physical Culture Club; and a 1946 placard promoting “The Game of the Century, Renaissance vs. New Britain Pros.”

An assortment of antique team equipment on view will include leather and canvas basketball shoes typical of those used in the 1910s, buckle-front shorts, leather & wool basketball knee pads, and vintage laced leather basketballs.

Related Programs
This spring, New-York Historical will offer a wide array of programs exploring the advancement of African Americans in sports, politics, and culture throughout the 20th century. Among the highlights are:

  • a discussion with renowned historians David Levering Lewis and Khalil Gibran Muhammad about the life and work of scholar and activist W.E.B. Du Bois (February 19)
  • a lecture by architectural historian Barry Lewis on Harlem’s architecture and social history (March 9)
  • a talk by Randall Kennedy, Harvard Law School professor and former law clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall, offering an in-depth look at Marshall’s legacy (March 11)
  • a free concert series celebrating jazz of the 1920s through the 1950s, with performances by Jay Leonhart (March 14 and June 20) and George Cables (April 4), both of whom will be performing with special guests as part of New-York Historical’s Free Fridays spring programming
  • a walking tour of Harlem, focusing on 1900-1924, that examines Harlem’s emergence as a haven for African Americans and Jews (April 27)
  • a talk by author Donald L. Miller about his new book, Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America (May 13)
  • a walking tour of Harlem, focusing on 1925-1950, that explores the social and economic roots of the Harlem Renaissance and its aftermath (June 1)
  • a film screening of Stormy Weather, with introductory remarks by journalist Bob Herbert and cultural critic and biographer Stanley Crouch (June 6)
  • a program revisiting the history of African Americans in basketball (speakers, date, and time to be announced)

The New-York Historical Society also has initiated the Basketball History Scholarship Contest, inviting metropolitan-area high school students (grades 9-12) to submit original essays, videos, or photographs on the theme of breaking barriers in basketball and making history, answering the question: How has basketball profoundly changed New York history, United States history, or your own personal history? Students may enter at blackfives.nyhistory.org through February 24, 2014. One winning entry in each category (essay, photo, video) will be selected by a panel of distinguished judges, including Knicks legend John Starks, current Alumni Relations and Fan Development Advisor for the New York Knicks, and NY 1 News’s Budd Mishkin, for a $1,000 college scholarship grand prize.

Funding for The Black Fives exhibition is provided, in part, by a grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, with the support and encouragement of Ernest J. Tollerson. The Free Fridays concerts and films are sponsored by Bank of America.

Black Fives Foundation
The Black Fives Foundation is a Greenwich, CT-based non-profit that researches, preserves, exhibits, and promotes the pre-1950 history of African American basketball to engage, inspire, and teach youth while honoring its pioneers and their descendants. Its purpose is to teach leadership and character development, promote educational advancement, stimulate interest in sports industry career opportunities, and advocate for the recognition of the era’s pioneers and their descendants.

About the New-York Historical Society
The New-York Historical Society, one of America's pre-eminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history.

Press Contacts
Laura Washington
New-York Historical Society
(212) 873-3400 x263

Julia Esposito
Polskin Arts & Communications Counselors
(212) 715-1643


Thursday, January 30, 2014
Creative: Tronvig Group