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African-American Badger Pioneers

African-American Pioneers by Sport 1900-1970

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Documents on Aftrican-American UW Athletic History


UW Athletes Record Historic Moments

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The UW athletic program launched its "Celebrate UW's Black History" section on UWBadgers.com in 2003. It has been updated periodically with new information and multimedia offerings and is one of the finest college resources for African-American athletics history in the nation.

African-American Athletic Pioneers
at the University of Wisconsin, 1900-1970

Photo of Jesse Nixon

Until recently, the number of African-American students at the University of Wisconsin has been quite small. Nevertheless, this vibrant community produced more than its share of varsity Badger athletes. From the earliest black Olympic medalist and the Big Ten's first African-American team captain to the conference's first black starting quarterback, UW's pioneering African-American athletes frequently blazed a trail for others to follow. Before now, however, there had been few attempts to record the experiences of Wisconsin's path-breaking black players. At long last, this is their story.

Photo of the 1900 Track Team

Unfortunately, piecing together their history at UW has not been an easy task, particularly for those who played before 1940. Like most schools, Wisconsin did not regularly record the race of its students for much of the 20th century, making the identification of African-Americans on campus a difficult process. Of Wisconsin's pre-WWII black athletes, only Olympian George Poage turns up in the standard reference works on blacks in college athletics. Accordingly, campus publications and team photographs yielded most of the information on the earliest African-American sportsmen on campus. These are both, at best, imperfect sources, and there may be other overlooked pioneers.

More information is available concerning the much larger contingent of black players who have represented Wisconsin since World War Two. The archives of the University of Wisconsin Sports Information Department provided much valuable material on these players. Nevertheless, several heretofore unheralded pioneers, including the first African-Americans to participate in basketball, wrestling, and fencing are being recognized here.

This web site is (and may always be) a work in progress, as we uncover more information about the history of black athletes at Wisconsin. Please contact us regarding any errors on these pages, or if you have new material to add to our knowledge of African-American Badgers. Special thanks to Tam Flarup, of the Wisconsin Sports Information Department and Bernie Schermetzler of the University of Wisconsin Archives for all of their help.

This project is dedicated to the memory of Julian Ware, Adelbert Matthews, and George Poage, the first three African-Americans to play varsity sports at the University of Wisconsin.

Gregory Bond received his Ph.D. in American history from the University of Wisconsin in 2008. He can be emailed at: badgerhistory@yahoo.com

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