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GlobetrottingAfrican American Athletes and Cold War Politics$
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Damion L. Thomas

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780252037177

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252037177.001.0001

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“Spreading the Gospel of Basketball”

“Spreading the Gospel of Basketball”

The Harlem Globetrotters, the State Department, and the Minstrel Tradition, 1945–54

(p.41) 2. “Spreading the Gospel of Basketball”

Damion L. Thomas

University of Illinois Press

This chapter focuses on the Harlem Globetrotters as Cold Warriors between 1947 and 1954. This is an important moment because prior to the passage of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, the State Department was in the unenviable position of trying to defend segregation while stressing racial progress. Moreover, the politics of symbolism associated with the Globetrotters' tours was designed to give legitimacy to existing racial inequalities in American society by stressing “progress” during the early Cold War era, despite the social, political, and legal barriers that hindered African American advancement. The symbol of the successful yet segregated athlete allowed the government to argue that segregation was not an impediment to the advancement of individual African Americans.

Keywords:   basketball, Harlem Globetrotters, segregation, racial progress, symbolism, African American advancement, segregated athletes

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