Tracing the Historical Contours of Black Muscular Christianity and American Sport

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Scholars have typically viewed muscular Christianity as a white movement. But there was considerable support for a form of muscular Christianity from Black Christians in the United States, too, particularly in the realm of sports. They embraced several tenets shared by white muscular Christians, including the middle-class emphasis on self-discipline and gentlemanly refinement, but they reframed the ideology of the movement to fit their reality as people living under the weight of white supremacy. It was through athletic competition, they believed, that young Black men could develop Christian virtues and be moulded into ‘race leaders’ equipped to meet the demands of the time. It was through sport, too, that Black athletes could claim a public platform to dispel with the myth of white superiority. From Joe Louis to Jackie Robinson, from Jake Gaither to John McLendon, for the first two-thirds of the twentieth century Black muscular Christianity shaped patterns of engagement with sport and the meanings assigned to it. Examining its historical development from its nineteenth-century origins through the 1960s provides a broad chronological frame that emphasizes both continuity and change over time, encouraging scrutiny of common narratives about the rise and decline of sport-based muscular Christianity in the United States.




Putz, P. E. (2022). Tracing the Historical Contours of Black Muscular Christianity and American Sport. International Journal of the History of Sport, 39(4), 404–424.

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