The Black Fives Basketball and the YMCA

The Young Men’s Christian Association (commonly known as YMCA or simply the Y) is a worldwide organization with more than 58 million beneficiaries from 125 national associations. It was founded on 6 June 1844 in London and aims to put Christian principles into practice by developing a healthy “body, mind and spirit.” These three “angles” are reflected by the different sides of the (red) triangle – part of all YMCA logos.   The different local YMCAs are voluntarily affiliated through their national organizations.  The national organizations in turn are part of both an Area Alliance and the World Alliance of YMCAs. The World Alliance’s main motto is: “Empowering young people,” and it is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

The YMCA’s played an instrumental role in the shaping and dissemination of basketball throughout the black community and ironically the racist segregation that kept black and white YMCA’s separated inadvertently is responsible for making the game as we know it today.

The first YMCA in the world established to serve African American people came into being in 1853, eight years before the Civil War and ten years before slavery was officially ended in the United States. The principal founder was a former slave, Anthony Bowen, who, with a group of friends, organized the “YMCA for Colored Men and Boys” in Washington, D.C., just nine years after the world’s first YMCA was founded in London, England and less than two years after the first North American YMCAs were organized in Boston and Montreal.

As a result of black YMCA’s the term Black Fives refers to all-black basketball teams that thrived in the United States between 1904, when basketball was first introduced to African Americans on a large scale organized basis, and 1950, when the National Basketball Association became racially integrated. The period is known as the “Black Fives Era” or “Early Black Basketball” or simply “Black Basketball”.

Black Fives Alpha Phi Alpha

Early basketball teams were often called “fives” in reference to the five starting players. All-black teams were known as colored quints, colored fives, Negro fives, or black fives. Dozens of all-black teams emerged during the Black Fives Era, in New York City, Washington, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and other cities.  They were sponsored by or affiliated with churches, athletic clubs, social clubs, businesses, newspapers, YMCA branches, and other organizations.

The terms “Black Fives” and “Black Fives Era” are trademarked phrases owned by Black Fives, Inc., whose founder and owner, Claude Johnson, coined the terms while researching and promoting the period’s history.   One could not argue against the force that Naismith and YMCA should be given. Every inner-city black community should have erected a statue to Dr. Naismith. One can only wonder why no one has?