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The game of basketball was invented in 1891. Teams were called “fives” because games were played with five players on the floor. Like the rest of society at the time, the sport was segregated. All black squads were called “Black Fives.” Between 1904-1950 is known as the “Black Fives Era” when the first all-black basketball teams began to play. The era ended when the NBA began to accept black players in 1950. Basketball was first introduced to the black community by Dr. Edwin B. Henderson in 1904. Due to Jim Crow segregation and discrimination, black teams were forbidden to play in white establishments. Black teams played in dance halls, churches, and other venues that would accept them. The games were popular social events in the black community. Often dances would be offered before and after games.
Though stories about all-black male teams abound, dozens of African American female basketball teams also played during the Black Fives Era. The New York Girls was one of the first independent African American female teams. It was formed in 1910 in Manhattan and was a sister club affiliated with the Alpha Physical Culture club mens team. Their first game was played in February 1910 against The Jersey Girls.
Both mens and womens teams received national coverage in the black press. The sport continued to grow in popularity with women despite “warnings” by many that basketball was dangerous for women. In 1911 one male physician declared that “basketball is injurious and should not be engaged in by girls or women…the nature of women should keep them from this dangerous sport.”
Click here to check out an informative short film from the New York Historical Society about the Black Fives Era.
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