African-American Athletes in Arkansas

UA Alum Publishes History of African Americans in Arkansas Sports

In African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks & Other Forgotten Stories, alumnus Evin Demirel (BA’05) brings to light a little-known part of Arkansas history.

The journey from his roots in central Arkansas to historian is a bit circular. He went to Central High School in Little Rock, where he said race relations was a common topic discussed in hallways and classrooms. At the U of A, he majored in Classical Studies and taught Latin for a time.

But he got back into doing what he loved most: writing, specifically about public history.

In July, Demirel brought some of his previous essays and features together into African-American Athletes in Arkansas, a 200-page volume he seif-published. Many of the chapters, both previously published and brand new, are about the Razorbacks. “When it comes to sports in Arkansas,” Demirel said, “they are the defining brand, a unifying force for the state.”

He said that on the surface of this unifying force, there seemed to be a total exclusion of African-Americans prior to 1960. “But there were these exceptions to the strict rule of Jim Crow,” he said, “essentially all the time.”

These exceptions, and other important stories about African-
Americans in Arkansas, are often not remembered and little known. “There is a vast disparity in the public records of whites and blacks in Arkansas,” Demirel said.

In his introduction, he says the history of pre-integration African-American communities is vanishing as the people who lived through those times die. To that end, he created heritageofsports.com. One of the site’s purposes is to support an ongoing online project to commemorate people and events relating to sports and race in the South.

He said he wants to inject these “forgotten stories” into the sphere of public history. “I want it to become part of our states history and part of the curriculum at high schools and at the U of A,” he said.

“I don’t see this as the end of something,” he said, “but the start of something.”

The above originally published in the October 2017 issue of Arkansas, an alumni magazine produced by the University of Arkansas.  Delani Bartlette is the author.