Where Are the African American Cultural Participants?

I have gone to a number of sports, entertainment, and cultural events throughout the country for decades. I am continually surprised by the absence of African Americans at these events. For instance, I have attended National Football League (NFL) games as well as major college football games. I have never attended any of these events in which the number of African Americans ex ceded one percent of the people in attendance at the games. In fact, it appeared that the few African Americans attending the games were family or friends of players on the teams. This is amazing given the large number of African American players who play in the NFL (70%) and also at the major college level. Over the years, I have watched many sports events on television with games taking place throughout the entire United States. As the cameras scan the audience in attendance it would be rare that any African Americans were in attendance even though there were a large percentage of African American athletes playing.

On May 29, 2009, the August Wilson Center for African American Culture had its opening preview. Five years later the center is likely to be closed and sold. The late August Wilson was a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning playwright who wrote his stories based on life in the Ghetto in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Wilson’s first play, Jitney was written in 1979 and his last play Radio Golf  was written in 2005. Wilson wrote a total of ten plays. I have seen some of his plays, and have read one and I have found them to be very interesting and exciting plays.

The August Wilson Center for African American Culture has a stated mission which includes “preserving, presenting, interpreting, celebrating and shaping the art, culture and history of African Americans utilizing the rich history, legacy and culture of African Americans from Western Pennsylvania as a foundation.” Since its first start, I have attended several cultural events that were held at the Center which has a 486 seat theater. The thing that always surprised me was the large number of whites who would be in attendance at the events. It is obvious that a part of the failure of the center can be attributed to the lack of support coming from the African American community. African American attendance at the events was disappointing to say the least.

On February 25, 2014, I attended The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess broadway musical at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh. The setting for the play was a small rural area of Charlestown South Carolina in the 1930s. All of the main characters in the play were African Americans. The play has a lot of great singing and dancing in it. The amazing thing, to me, was the make-up of the audience. It appeared that less than ten percent of the people attending were African Americans and that is probably being conservative in my estimate.

In 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in a baseball game in the previously all white Major League. This was celebrated as a great event in the history of advancement of the African Americans. Soon after the signing of Robinson, many Major League teams likewise began to sign African American players from the Negro League. The Major League’s gain came at a great loss to the Negro Baseball League which was losing a large number of its talented players. Attendance began to decline in the Negro League and it eventually went out of business in the mid-1950s.

I can remember watching the Brooklyn Dodgers play in the Major League in the early to mid- 1950s. They had three African Americans on their team who were super stars, and they were clearly the favorite major league team of African Americans throughout the United States.

During the 1930s and 1940s, African Americans attended Negro League baseball games in large numbers. Pictures of such games show thousands of African Americans in attendance at the games. African American men can be seen with their best suits and ties on while the African American women looked gorgeous in their many very attractive dress attires they wore. It looked like a great social events that seemed to reflect a time of great happiness and excitement among the African Americans in attendance.

An East-West game in 1946 drew an attendance of 45,474. In fact, during the 40s attendance for the game averaged over 40,000 fans and twice it cracked the 50,000 mark. A crowd of 51,723 turned out to see the famous Negro League player Satchel Paige in a game during the 40s. This was a great social time for the African Americans who were completely supportive of the Negro League and they showed this by attending the games in large numbers.

As I watched Major League baseball games in 2013 it was obvious to me that the African American fans are rarely in attendance at these games. As the cameras scan the audience it is clear that very few African Americans attend Major League baseball games. Thus, we can see the African American has gone from attendance levels of 40,000 to 50,000 in the 40s to close to zero in 2013. While the percentage of African American athletes has increased significantly since the 1940s, the attendance of African Americans at athletic events has declined substantially during the period.

Where are the African Americans? Why are they not attending sporting and cultural events? That is a question that begs for an answer. One possible explanation may be the high cost of attending such events. If cost is the reason, then the real problem is likely to be the low incomes the average African American. They simply cannot afford to attend the games and cultural events of modern times.


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