Moore, Louis. We Will Win the Day: The Civil Rights Movement, the Black Athlete, and the Quest for Equality. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2021. Pp. 260. $24.95 paperback and e-book.
Reviewed by Łukasz Muniowski
Louis Moore’s We Will Win the Day is the first book in a new series from the University Press of Kentucky, Race and Sports. It offers an extensive study of archival newspaper articles and opinion pieces on historically significant events in the quest against racism and discrimination in sports. Thanks to Moore’s inclusive approach and thorough research, the book highlights freedom fighters who are often absent from the main narrative, which always includes names such as Jackie Robinson, Bill Russell, Jim Brown, or Muhammad Ali.
The fight for equality truly gained steam only after World War II, when Black soldiers found themselves fighting against white soldiers for the same cause, yet, following their return to the United States, found themselves still divided by Jim Crow laws, which prohibited the brothers in arms from interacting in various social spaces. With the conflict now over, white allies of integration found a different battlefield to elevate and cheer on African Americans––that of organized sports.
The author pinpoints the debut of Jackie Robinson on April 15, 1947 as the first significant representation of “the ability of a black man to succeed in a white space” (p. 3). Moore adheres to the general myth of inspiration and representation of professional sports, as it is the ability and visibility of Black athletes during sporting competitions that can push the boundaries of tolerance and progress in other areas of life. If anything, sports gave people hope that the same people who were attending games and cheering for Black athletes from the stands would want them to be successful in other aspects of life as well. Calling Robinson’s debut “the single most important moment in sport history” (p. 7) is somewhat farfetched though, as the evaluation ignores events from the other side of the globe, such as the very first haka performed by the New Zealand rugby team in 1888, the Christmas ceasefire during World War I, Jesse Owens’ victories at the 1936 Olympics, or any instance of Eastern Bloc countries winning over the powerful USSR. Most of them were more unlikely than the Miracle on Ice––just look up the (in)famous gesture of Władysław Kozakiewicz during the 1980 Olympics in Moscow following his victory in the pole vault. If we are talking about American sports history, however, as we are doing on this blog, that is a different story and not many would dispute Moore’s assessment.
Robinson as a player exhibited a similar approach to integration as the first recognizable Black tennis player, Althea Gibson, who thought that her presence in spaces where African Americans were not often visible was enough to advance the issue. Decades later, athletes like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan also wanted their games to do the talking, as they believed being Black and successful was enough to change the status quo. Their achievements were made possible with the help of white allies, like Branch Rickey, Bill Veeck, Abe Saperstein or Paul Brown, who ignored race in order for their franchises to be successful. In the end, that was what those in favor of integration wanted––a fair shot for all. Some of them, Rickey in particular, presented themselves as Lincoln-like, even though their actions were primarily profit-driven. However, due to structural-induced differences in background, upbringing, and education, something like a fair shot did not exist. One might argue that it still does not.
While integration was slowly progressing, those participating in sporting competitions were just as important as those refusing to take part in them. Such was the case with runners who refused to participate in Olympic competitions following USC track coach and noted racist Dean Cromwell being named the head coach of the national team. The hiring was exemplary of the era, when the USA had no problem both showcasing Black athletes in international sporting competitions, using them as signs of American superiority, and disrespecting them in their daily lives. Hence, civil rights became the primary focus of athlete activists, who noted that mere participation was not enough to advance social progress. In 1958, Erosanna Robinson, arguably the best female track athlete in the country at the time, refused to participate in the USA-USSR Track and Field Dual Meet, as she did not want to be a political pawn in the hands of the American government. In 1961, Bill Russell decided to not play in a game against the St. Louis Hawks after his Black teammates were refused service in a coffee shop. Most notably, in 1967, with the 1964 Civil Rights Act already in place, the boxer formerly known as Cassius Clay refused induction into the military to fight in the Vietnam War, even though this meant being stripped of his championship and losing his freedom.
The list goes on and on, and, unfortunately, the struggle continues as well. The book places Colin Kaepernick as the most recent torch bearer, somebody who was brave enough to sacrifice his wellbeing in order to make still-needed points about the absence of racial equality in the United States. We Will Win the Day praises those who have used their platform and, by various means, showed America that discriminating against Black citizens while praising Black athletes was not only hypocritical, but also unjust, unlawful, and simply inhumane.
Łukasz Muniowski recieved his Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Warsaw. He is the author of Three-Pointer! A 40-Year NBA History (McFarland, 2020), Narrating the NBA: Representations of Leading Players after the Michael Jordan Era (Lexington, 2021), and The Sixth Man: A History of the NBA Off the Bench (McFarland, 2021).