Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a book’s life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Book Birthday to The Black Bruins by James W. Johnson (Nebraska, 2018).
About the Book:
The Black Bruins chronicles the inspirational lives of five African American athletes who faced racial discrimination as teammates at UCLA in the late 1930s. Best known among them was Jackie Robinson, a four‑star athlete for the Bruins who went on to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball and become a leader in the civil rights movement after his retirement. Joining him were Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Ray Bartlett, and Tom Bradley—the four played starring roles in an era when fewer than a dozen major colleges had black players on their rosters. This rejection of the “gentleman’s agreement,” which kept teams from fielding black players against all-white teams, inspired black Angelinos and the African American press to adopt the teammates as their own.
Kenny Washington became the first African American player to sign with an NFL team in the post–World War II era and later became a Los Angeles police officer and actor. Woody Strode, a Bruins football and track star, broke into the NFL with Washington in 1946 as a Los Angeles Ram and went on to act in at least fifty‑seven full-length feature films. Ray Bartlett, a football, basketball, baseball, and track athlete, became the second African American to join the Pasadena Police Department, later donating his time to civic affairs and charity. Tom Bradley, a runner for the Bruins’ track team, spent twenty years fighting racial discrimination in the Los Angeles Police Department before being elected the first black mayor of Los Angeles.
“Johnson engagingly captures the lives, struggles, and triumphs of five men whose greatness transcended American sports.”—Kirkus
“Johnson has a novelist’s skill with narrative, which gives extra flair to this fascinating look at an era of evolving racial attitudes.”—Booklist
“The Black Bruins not only shines a light on their considerable athletic achievements in several sports but also examines their successes in adult life.”—CS Monitor
“Johnson deftly connects the dots between the Black Bruins and the gradual erosion of the wall built by racial prejudice. This highly-readable book should not be relegated to a sports library, despite its absorbing accounts of early Bruins football: readers interested in social and cultural history will be intrigued by the surprising impact of the five on the civil rights movement.”—Arizona Daily Star
“Perhaps an existential take-away from The Black Bruins is one that compels us not only to consider more carefully how to appropriate and build upon such legacies, but also to better see how our own diverse and distinct California narratives connect to each other.”—Boom California
On the blog:
- Publicist Picks: Early Modern Culture, Quilting, and Other Early 2018 Books
- Marketeers Club: Best of 2017
- From the Desk of James W. Johnson: Great Reads Begin with Great Research
- Black History Month: Jackie Robinson
A word from James W. Johnson:
It’s always exciting for authors to see their books in print. I’m no exception and I’m pleased that my book, The Black Bruins: The Remarkable Lives of Jackie Robinson, Woody Strode, Tom Bradley, Kenny Washington, and Ray Bartlett published by the University of Nebraska Press, is still getting attention.
The Black Bruins is far more than a sports story; it is one that traces the successes they achieved in public life when African-Americans had overcome the ravages of blatant racism. It was truly remarkable.
I am delighted as well to receive positive reviews from a number of respectable reviewers, including newspapers, magazines, and online readers. These accolades led me to a session of the well-attended Tucson Festival of Books last spring. I can’t wait for “Bruins” to come out in paperback this Fall.