College of Education and Human Development
Dr. David K. Wiggins, Mason Professor Emeritus of Sport, recounts achievements of African American Olympians in new book
February 13, 2023
Dr. David K. Wiggins, Professor Emeritus of Sport Studies in George Mason University’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), is co-author of a new book titled Black Mercuries: African American Athletes, Race, and the Modern Olympic Games. The book recounts in detail the extraordinary accomplishments and struggles of African American athletes who competed in the modern summer Olympic Games from 1896 through the present. Collaborating with Dr. Wiggins on the book were co-authors Dr. Kevin B. Witherspoon, professor of history and Dr. Benjamin E. Mays Endowed Chair at Lander University; and Dr. Mark Dyreson, professor of kinesiology, affiliate professor of history, and co-director of the Center for the Study of Sports in Society at Pennsylvania State University.
The book provides an historical and chronological account of the lived experiences of African American Olympians who found the determination and fortitude to prevail at the summer games, often in the face of racial bias, prejudice, and discrimination. Some of the most legendary African American Olympians in history are featured in the book including Jesse Owens, Rafer Johnson, Wilma Rudolph, Michael Johnson, Carl Lewis, Florence Griffith Joyner, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Simone Biles. Also portrayed in the book are the untold stories of several African American Olympians who remain obscured in Olympic history despite their remarkable achievements at the summer games.
The authors discuss how the success and perseverance of the Olympians highlighted in the book paved the way for the participation of African American athletes in a wide variety of sports. In the Introduction they write, “Over time, African American athletes have gradually found their way into an increasing number of Olympic sports ranging from swimming and basketball to fencing and wrestling, but much more still needs to be done to ensure that they are given the opportunity, encouraged, and provided the support system necessary to expand the competitive activities available to them.”
Dr. David Wiggins
The book has received praise for its insightful analysis of the important contributions that African American Olympians have made in influencing the space where race, gender, society, and sports come together. The Foreword of the book was written by Lonnie G. Bunch, III, Founding Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and now Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. In it, he writes, “The history of the African American in the Olympic games is finally getting the scholarly treatment worthy of this history. Black Mercuries: African American Athletes, Race, and the Modern Olympic Games reveals the central role that race has played in shaping both the modern Olympics and the character of modern America. Race has cast a shadow over the Olympic games and that shadow is brilliantly and exhaustively researched and interpreted in Black Mercuries.”
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