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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Afro-American Studies

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

John H. Bracey

Second Advisor

Amilcar Shabazz

Third Advisor

John Higginson

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Cultural History | United States History


My dissertation, “The Physical Uplift of the Race: The Emergence of the African American Physical Culture Movement, 1900—1930,” situates the early twentieth century of African American physical culture within a historical narrative that shaped philosophical viewpoints of African American urban community development. Previous inquiries of related topics attempt to describe a physical culture movement that was somehow separate and apart from the larger historical narrative of African people in the United States. My work does not continue in that vein. My objective is to illustrate how the black physical culture movement was primarily a reaction to African Americans’ new geo-political realities and communal aspirations as they began to establish communities outside of the rural South. In part one of my dissertation I interrogate the relationship between the African-American physical culture movement and black social scientists’ investigations social issues that plagued the increasingly urbanizing black population at the turn of the twentieth century. I argue that black social reformers adopted aspects of the physical culture movement to remedy issues related to poor health, inadequate childcare, inadequate education, and youthful mischief. I conclude this section by arguing that, despite their early achievements in spreading movement aims, on the eve of Depression era, black physical culture proponents began to compete with the spoils of their own success. This last point has great implications for modern African American student-athletes and the communities who support them. In part two I analyze the black playground movement as a manifestation of “race adjustment” as depicted within the pages of Baltimore’s Afro-American newspaper. My first argument is that from 1909 to 1925, the Afro-American, which began as one of the most important black periodicals, became increasingly disillusioned with the idea of reaching an accommodation with the larger white population. This is evidenced by its evolving definition of the term race adjustment and the newspaper’s subsequent advocacy for race progress. My second argument is that the Afro, which had been known as an overtly political instrument for black self-determination, adopted as one of its principal campaigns the construction of playgrounds for reasons related to race advancement. I conclude by arguing that the struggle to erect playgrounds in black Baltimore unfolded in ways that differed greatly from the effort to establish playgrounds for white and European immigrant youth. My epilogue outlines some areas for future research.