Tennessee’s most popular late 19th century sport was horseracing, dominated in these decades, as it had been before the war, by African American trainers and jockeys. Bob Green, trainer at Nashville’s Belle Meade Plantation, was famous across the eastern United States. Edward Franklin Geers, a champion harness racer, is memorialized with a 1926 monument in Columbia. But by 1920s, Jim Crow segregation had long ago ended the era of African American jockeys—blacks became part of the background of Tennessee horseracing. African American boxers next took center stage, although they fought for segregated titles until Jack Johnson unified the heavyweight title with a 1908 victory and then defeated former champion Jim Jeffries in 1910.
With segregation limiting opportunities in horseracing and boxing, new athletic heroes emerged across black Tennessee through sport programs at public schools. Especially after New Deal programs constructed modern gymnasiums and improved athletic fields, African American teenagers created new sport legacies in baseball, basketball, football, and track and field.