‘The Black Fives’ Exhibit Comes to New-York Historical Society Next Month


Smart Set Athletic Club Basketball Team, 1909

It’s Basketball 101: five players step on the court to start the game for each team. Back in the late 1800s when the sport first came to life, teams were called “fives.” Fives with all African-American players were known as “colored fives,” “Negro fives” or “black fives”—hence, the Black Fives Era and the inspiration for the exhibit entitled The Black Fives coming to the New-York Historical Society next month. See below for the exhibition highlights:

“Highlights of The Black Fives include archival images of the earliest African American basketball teams, including the Alpha Physical Culture Club, the nation’s first all-black athletic club (1912); the New York Girls, the first all-black female team (1910); and team photos of the New York Renaissance (also known as the “Harlem Rens”), Smart Set Athletic Club, Harlem Globetrotters, and the Washington Bears.

Among the exhibition’s unique pieces are a 1914 gold-leafed basketball medallion promoting the St. Christopher Club of Harlem; a 1937 New York Renaissance vs. Oshkosh All Stars game ticket stub; and a complete collection of event programs for the World’s Championship of Professional Basketball played from 1939-1948 and won by three different African American teams.

The Black Fives will also feature vintage African American basketball ephemera, such as newspaper broadsheets and clippings, scrapbooks, game placards and flyers, such as a 1943 official souvenir program for the “5th Annual World’s Championship Basketball Tournament”; a 1912 “Pittsburgh vs. New York” advertisement for the Annual Christmas Basketball Games and Dance of the Alpha Physical Culture Club; and a 1946 placard promoting “The Game of the Century, Renaissance vs. New Britain Pros.”

An assortment of antique team equipment on view will include leather and canvas basketball shoes typical of those used in the 1910s, buckle-front shorts, leather & wool basketball knee pads, and vintage laced leather basketballs.”