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The Undoubtedly Negro Sport of Hockey?

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This article is part of a series in celebration of a new, dynamic voice in Black America: the NUBIANO Exchange. Brace yourself for the NUBIANO experience.

by Michael Hutson

For as long as anyone can remember, the performance of the organized sport has been one of the most cherished pastimes of American culture. From an entertainment perspective, sporting institutions have created many financial gains for corporate entities.

From a social perspective, they have served not only as blatantly visible achievements for young athletes, but also as a divider for who’s who among the social hierarchy. Few other countries have succeeded in cultivating as many mainstream sports as the United States; however, few countries have succeeded in creating such racial boundaries within these sports as well.

Just about every sport has a predominant race that is supposedly “the best” at doing it. Besides basketball, and perhaps football, the stereotype is usually that of the white man being the top dog; history has shown there has been little to no black influence in the histories of any of the major American sports that we have come to love so much. 

Until now.

One sport that has become notorious for a lack of African-American participation, perhaps simply do to its nature, is hockey. Although the National Hockey League is over 95% Caucasian, current research has come to show that, despite it’s reputation as an “all-white” sport, hockey was actually popularized in the Americas through African-American efforts.

Residing in the bitter locale of Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada), with little to do in their spare time but much to prove to themselves, the African-American sons and grandsons of the last generations of runaway slaves decided to reform a sport in which they could show a talent of endurance that many thought they did not possess. What they formed was what would later come to be known as the first Coloured Hockey League of the Maritimes. In 1895, the league would revolutionize the game as we play it today.

The Coloured Hockey League was initially thought to be a joke. For a group of blacks to make any type of legitimate movement in business would already be doubted enough, but when factoring in the idea that blacks were not agile enough to skate upon ice, not physically capable of enduring the cold climate, and not intelligent enough to formulate competent strategy, whites thought the league was doomed.

In short time, many of the teams within the league soon began to show up other teams in the area, even when they were often times outnumbered and under equipped. They did this through their use of coded words carried over from the Underground Railroad, a sophisticated understanding of momentum and inertia, and through their intense belief that God was always on their side. Through the use of custom shoe blades (what would later become the norm in modern hockey) and the implication of a new technique, the "slapshot," the Coloured Hockey League set a name for itself, which struck fear into the hearts of opponents in Canada and beyond.

Sadly, with time, their influence came to be great enough that their Caucasian counterparts found reason to dismantle the league, on reasons highly speculated, but still undisclosed to this day. In the process, many contributions the Coloured Hockey League made to the game of hockey were ignored, credited to the new organization of the National Hockey League and, quite simply, stolen from the original league and stylistically implemented into the “white-man’s” style of play.

Even through this travesty, the players of the Coloured Hockey League were known to believe in racial equality through teamwork and sport. They felt that, with time, the barriers set by slavery could be broken through impartiality in athletics.

It was with this passion that they drove their way towards not only winning games throughout their careers, but being at peace with themselves through their day to day lives.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Black Ice Project, The

Fosty, George Robert & Fosty, Darril. Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, 1895-1925. Stryker-Indigo Publishing Company: Levittown, New York, 2004.`

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About Clayton Perry

  • Ty

    Thanks for this. As a big NHL fan, I love to hear stories like this. My black friends will love it when I tell them black people invented the slapshot.

  • http://www.friendlymisanthropist.blogspot.com alessandro nicolo

    ‘Boom Boom’ Geoferrion invented the slap shot as we know it. The historian suggests it could have been Eddie Martin. It’s a little like Galilleo. His work was based on the evolution of previous works from the Ancient Greeks to Copernicus and Brahe. But it was Gallileo who once and for all proved the collective theories. Same with Elvis Presley. The criticism against him is that he didn’t invent rock’n roll (Bo Diddley anyone?) which is probably true. But that’s besides the point (we all know he was influenced by Black Gospel). Presley is the one who dislodged jazz from the youths.

    Great piece and I have known about this league for some time. Imagine, the Negro Leagues in baseball tend to be overlooked; the hockey one is even more obscure. And it doesn’t surprise me it was innovative. Off-leagues usually tend to be (think how the NFL learnt from the AFL and even the CFL). The WHA (one of those under rated hockey leagues of the 70s) also influenced the NHL.

    There is no doubt the blacks got a raw deal. It’s too bad. We’re poorer for it. On a side note, I remember seeing a story about how the New York Rangers were teaching hockey in the inner-city.

    Hmm. We’re beginning to see more and more blacks in so-called rich white men sports now – tennis, golf and now F1 with Lewis Hamilton. I think I’m going to go on a limb here and wonder if this has anything to do with the successful economic progress of blacks.

  • Ken

    Baseball, Hockey . . . how about the Afro-American Trap Shooter’s League of the early 1900’s? They held Grand American Handicap annually from 1903-1909. The organization was near St. Louis, Mo. but shooters came from all over to compete.

    There is an attempt underway to make a documentary presenting the origins of the African American Gun Club, the N.S.T.A. (National Skeet & Trap Association)organized about 1950, and how the Pullman porters who were reported to be a substantial force in organizing these clubs.

    I hope the project is successful and provides another piece of African American history that is of interest to all.

  • jajs

    You mean besides basketball, soccer, football, short and long distance track, tennis, baseball and that leaves white people with fishing and winter sports