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‘Beyond sports’ rewind: Check out all the stories from our Black History Month series

Reina Kempt
| Louisville Courier Journal

The Courier Journal capped off Black History Month this year with a deep dive into seven Kentucky-centric stories highlighting the many triumphs and plights of Black Americans in the world of sports.

From the segregation of Kentucky swimming pools’ effect on the Black community to Western Kentucky basketball’s all-Black starting five reaching the Final Four, the “Beyond Sports” subscriber-only series explores seven historic moments, records and people who have cemented themselves as pioneers or have been influenced by those before them.

Take Donna Murphy, who persevered through a bevy of racism and sexism to become Kentucky’s first Miss Basketball in 1976. The former Newport High star went on to play at Morehead State and later became a longtime coach in the high school and college ranks.

“I had been called a lot of names — racist names,” Murphy said. “I played like a guy, so people called me a guy, called me a man, called me a monkey. I had to go through a whole lot of stuff when I was in high school. But (winning Miss Basketball) helped me know what I did really meant something. It legitimized what I was doing.”

Here are look back at all the stories featured in our ‘Beyond Sports’ series, which ended Sunday. Remember, the series is subscriber only, which you can sign up for here. 

‘Beyond Sports’ series rewind

Dream meeting: What Louisville’s Malik Williams would ask Martin Luther King Jr.

Brief: U of L forward/center Malik Williams’ admiration for the famed minister and civil rights activist took on more context in 2020 with the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the cultural response to racial injustice. If Williams could sit down with the deceased King today, he knows exactly what they’d discuss.

Unwelcome waters: Segregated public pools and their lingering effect on the Black community

Brief: The story will analyze the history of segregation of pools in Louisville and nationwide as a part of a national trend in the early to mid-1900s, highlighting the “whys” behind the segregation and the lasting impact it had on Black America and its interaction with swimming both for leisure and competition post-integration.

Meet Donna Murphy, Kentucky’s first Miss Basketball winner and a self-taught star

Brief: Newport High School star Donna Murphy dealt with racism and misogyny while playing in the first-ever girls Sweet 16 in 1975, went on to star at Morehead State and coached on the high school and college levels.

Western Kentucky’s 1971 Final Four team still in the hearts of Hilltopper fans 50 years later

Brief: This year marks 50 years since Western Kentucky’s lone Final Four team made its run in the NCAA Tournament. The team featured an all-Black starting five — and all from Kentucky. The Courier Journal details the Hilltoppers’ run to the sport’s biggest stage.

Long before Jackie Robinson, a Black man played major league baseball — in Louisville

Brief: On May 1, 1884, the first ‘openly’ Black man played major league baseball — in Louisville, Kentucky. His name was Fleet Walker, and he debuted for Toledo in a game at Eclipse Park in Louisville, 63 years before Jackie Robinson played for the Dodgers.

The Special Relationship: A look at the historic connection between Central and St. Xavier

Brief: This is a bit of the history around a special, historic relationship between Central High School and St. Xavier High School. They came from opposite sides of the tracks but were able to find common ground in sports and competition, enough so that it connected two schools with student populations that looked nothing like each other.

Kentucky’s own Globetrotter finally finds home in state’s sports hall of fame

Brief: Clarence Wilson, a basketball star from Horse Cave who later settled in Louisville and played and coached for the Harlem Globetrotters. Nearly a quarter-century since Wilson’s 1996 death, his legend lives on through oral history and, belatedly, formal recognition.

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