For this week, I read Rita Liberti’s chapter, “‘We Were Ladies, We Just Played Like Boys’,” where Liberti focuses on African American women at Bennett College and their experiences there as athletes during the early to mid 1900s.
“Occasional ambivalent reactions to female athleticism by members of the black community reflected adherence by some to more restrictive notions of gender and the unease surrounding women’s involvement in rigorous sport.” (Liberti 2002)
As I have understood during my reading of Raceball, African Americans turned to sports, such as baseball, in order to find their place in a society overwhelmed by racial divide. While it was universally supported for black males, this quote alludes to the fact that it differed for black females. Though the reactions were not necessarily negative, the support for women among the black community did not match up to the support for men, thus highlighting the gender challenges within the community.
“As Bennett president, David Jones was well aware of the obstacles that black women encountered, and he worked to create an environment at the college that would prepare students to enter the world and be full participants in it.” (Liberti 2002)
The support for black female athletes was lacking; but it was on full display at Bennett College in the 1930s, which showed tremendous support for female athletes from top to bottom. At the top, David Jones acknowledged female athletes and their struggles, thus endorsing in a basketball program while other colleges did not. His support for female athletes led to women enrollment into Bennett to skyrocket over time. His leadership as the college’s president and support for the women’s basketball program propelled, not just female athletes, but all African Americans within the college.
“Like other critics, [J.H.N.] Waring argued that the five-player game was too strenuous and did not bring out ‘the finer qualities in girls.” (Liberti 2002)
J. H. N. Waring Jr. was among the many to debate over women involvement in five-player basketball, saying that such involvement brought fear “for the physical well-being” of women and did not demonstrate “appropriate behavior” among women. These reasons were commonly used to question the idea of women playing the game of basketball, let alone a five-player game. Though Waring’s criticism was met with opposition at the time, it does exemplify the boundary set in between athleticism and femininity.