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Black History: Special Delivery!!


African American Athletes

Lusia “Lucy” Smith: 1st Woman Drafted By The NBA

Black History: Special Delivery

Welcome To Black Mail…..where we bring you Black History:  Special Delivery!

Known as “The Queen of Basketball”, Lusia Smith was a trailblazing Olympic athlete who became the first woman to be drafted by the NBA in 1977. Although she was selected by an NBA team, she chose not to try out for the New Orleans Jazz because she was pregnant at the time. She went on to become the head coach of her high school basketball team, Amanda Elzy High School in Greenwood, Mississippi.

Smith was described as a dominant 6 foot 3 inch center. She was Mississippi’s first All American basketball player. While a student at Delta State (1973-1977), she won 3 consecutive championships. Basketball great, Shaquille O’Neal made a documentary about her life. In the documentary, Smith is transparent about her struggles with mental health after she stopped playing basketball. Her success predated the launch of the WNBA.

Lusia Smith passed away on January 18, 2022.

Another installment of melanated mail has been delivered. Ponder, reflect, and pass it on. 

The National Negro Bowling Association

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The National Bowling Association

The National Negro Bowling Association (NNBA) was founded on August 20, 1939 in Detroit, MI.  At that time, the majority of bowling organizations did not allow blacks to become members.  In many cases it was actually written into the constitution of organizations that only whites could be members.  The NNBA held its first tournament in Cleveland, OH in 1939 which featured teams from Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin.  There was representation from other states as well.  However, bowlers from Cleveland, Chicago, and Detroit dominated the association until the 1950’s.


TNBA 1939
National Negro Bowlers Association – 1939

Continue reading “The National Negro Bowling Association”

Dr. Charles “Pruner” West: The Rose Bowl’s 1st African American Quarter Back

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Dr. Charles Fremont “Pruner” West (1899 – 1979) led Washington and Jefferson College to its first and only Rose Bowl appearance in 1922 against the UCLA Golden Bears. West was the first African American quarterback to play in the Rose Bowl. He was playing the position of half back at the time but was asked to play quarterback due to another player’s injury. West led his team to the first scoreless tie in Rose Bowl history. The small liberal arts college located in Washington, PA was not expected to be a contender against such a formidable opponent.

The cost of travel limited the number of players who could accompany the team to the Rose Bowl. Just 11 players made the trip. During the trip one of the players became ill and had to be hospitalized. Another player who had stowed away in the baggage car, took that players seat on the train and then played in the game. West’s appearance in the Rose Bowl would take place 25 years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball. In 1916, Fritz Pollard of Brown University became the first African American to play in the Rose Bowl. West was the first to play in the Rose Bowl in the quarterback position.

An outstanding athlete, Pruner was also a two-time national pentathlon champion. He was named to the 1924 Olympic team but ultimately was not allowed to participate. West had sustained a hamstring injury but still traveled with the team while recuperating. Upon arrival, he was healthy enough to compete; however French Olympic officials refused to let him do so because he was listed as an alternate. This decision was heartbreaking for West.

West is also remembered for his participation in a 1923 college football game against the Washington and Lee Generals. It was the southern schools’ tradition to “request” that northern teams bench their black quarterbacks. When asked how he felt about possibly being benched, West indicated that he could not prevent himself from being benched but vowed to never play for the college again if he was benched. Washington and Jefferson refused to play without West and dropped out of the game. West often experienced racial discrimination when traveling with his college team. During the 1921 season, the team traveled to a game in West Virginia. A local pharmacist put up a display in his store window of a doll painted jet black in a football uniform next to a toy ambulance (implying what would be done to West during the game). Washington and Jefferson defeated the West Virginia team. Following the victory, West went over to the pharmacy and asked if he could have the display. Embarrassed, the pharmacist gave it to him. West’s daughter still has the display.

West went on to play for the Akron Pros an NFL franchise that folded in 1926. He then retired from sports to attend medical school at Howard University. He would go on to a successful 50 year career in medicine in Alexandria, VA. He died of cancer in 1979. He was 80 years old. West was posthumously inducted in the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame on December 30, 2017.


Katrina Adams: 1st African American President of U.S. Tennis Association

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We’ve seen the headlines about Sloane Stephens defeating Venus Williams to win the U.S. Open. It’s great to see another wave of African American women excelling in the sport.

Many may not know the CEO of the United States Tennis Association (USTA) is also an African American woman. Katrina Adams has been at the helm since 2015. She is USTA’s first African American CEO and its youngest CEO in the 135 year history of the organization.

An accomplished, tennis pro, Adams began playing tennis in Chicago in 1975 at the age of six. She played tennis in college for Northwestern University before launching her 12 year professional career. She also spent several years as a tennis coach.

Adams is proud of the progress that African American women have made in tennis. She would like to see greater participation in the sport by African American boys and Latino youth.


Richard Ewell: 1st African American To Win National Figure Skating Title

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Richard Ewell


Richard Ewell was the first African American to win national skating titles in pair skating (1972) and singles skating (1970).  He won the pair skating title with African American skater Michelle McCladdie.  Ewell’s first figure skating coach was the legendary African American skater, Mabel Fairbanks.  Ewell later went on star in Icecapades and now coaches figure skating in California.



Burl Toler: 1st African American NFL Official

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Bud Toler (1928-2009) 1st African American NFL Official


Burl Toler (1928-2009) takes his place in history as the very first African American official in the National Football League (NFL).  Toler is also known for his career as a college football player at the University of San Francisco.  The team was undefeated and untied in 1951 but was denied a bowl game because of their refusal to leave two African American players behind, Burl Toler and Ollie Matson.  Toler later became a 9th round draft pick for the Cleveland Browns but never played a game for the team due to a knee injury he sustained in a college game.

Toler began officiating for the NFL in 1965; making him the first African American official in a major American professional team sport.  Toler’s career spanned 25 years as a head linesman and field judge in the NFL.  He was also the first African American official to work in a Super Bowl Game.  Toler retired in 1990.

While Toler was the first African American official in the NFL.  Johnny Grier was the first African American to be an NFL referee.  In professional football there are several on-field officials.  Many times, these roles can be referred to as a “referees”.  So technically speaking, Grier was the first African American “referee” in the NFL.  However, Toler remains the first African American official in the NFL.  Toler died at the age of 81 in 2009.



Two Women Wear Blackface To Serena Williams’ Australian Open Tennis Match

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Here we go again!  Why can’t they leave Serena Williams alone!   At the Australian Open on January 27, 2016, a woman in black face was photographed holding up a sign that said, “Keep Calm And Be Serena”.  Continue reading “Two Women Wear Blackface To Serena Williams’ Australian Open Tennis Match”

Happy 74th Birthday Muhammad Ali

Black History:  Special Delivery!!


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African American Firsts In The NBA

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Bill Russell was an African American NBA player who played 13 seasons from 1956-1969. 4th African-American player to sign with the NBA team.  He was the first African American NBA coach (1966-1969).

Black Mail Fast Facts:  (From

The NBA shares a number of interesting sports related Black History Facts.  Check them out below:

  • 1968 First African American referee in the NBA (Ken Hudson)
  • 1971-72 First African American bench coach named (Earl Lloyd, Detroit Pistons)
  • 1972 First African American NBA General Manager named (Wayne Embry). He is the first black General Manager in professional sports.
  • 1972 First African American owner/coach elected to Basketball Hall of Fame as a significant contributor to the sport (Bob Douglass, New York Renaissance)
  • 1972 Title IX legislation prohibits sexual discrimination and mandates funding equity for women in sports in all federal funded educational facilities.
  • 1972 First African American head coach to win a NCAA Division I championship (John Thompson, Georgetown University)
  • 1997 First Season of the newly established WNBA, the sister league to the NBA
  • 2002 First African American owner of an NBA franchise team (Robert Johnson, Charlotte Bobcats)

Check out more black history facts from The NBA:

Check out some of our earlier posts:

Annie Lee: African American Artist Who Captured Black Americana Through Her Paintings

Mississippi Appendectomy: History of Involuntary Sterilization of African American Women

NASA Mathematician Recieves Medal of Honor




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