Historic African American Long Distance Running Milestone!

Celebrating African American Long Distance Running History

Aaron Morris – An Historic 100 th Anniversary: The First Known Negro Runner (1919) to Compete in the Boston Marathon

Aaron Morris was born in Barbados, West Indies in 1895 and emigrated to the United States where he settled in Brooklyn, New York.  As a young man Aaron worked a variety of jobs including at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  As a pillar of the community Aaron was responsible for opening a local community center in the Fort Green section of Brooklyn.

Running History April 19, 1919:
Aaron Morris running for the St. Christopher Athletic Club finishes 6th place at the Boston Marathon in a time of 2:37:31.  He becomes the first know African American to run this race.  The race had 25 finishers and was won by Carl Linder in 2:29:13.

Other Running History Milestones by Aaron Morris
1914:
“Aaron Morris of the Smart Set Athletic Club tied for first place with Jake Maier of the Bronx Church House in the Morningside Athletic Club 8 mile cross-country race.”

Source: New York Times April 27, 1914

1915:
“Aaron Morris competed in a 15 mile race that included such runners as Hannes Kolehmainen, considered the foremost distance runners in the world, and Charles Pores of the Millrose Athletic Association.”

Source: New York Times May 3, 1915

1916:
“During the evening of Thursday, May 25, the management will present the handsome silver cup offered to the first colored runner who finished in the modified Marathon race conducted last Saturday by the New York Evening Mail.  Aaron Morris of the St. Christopher Club, who finished fifth in that race, was the first colored boy to finish, and he will receive the prize.”

Source: The New York Age – May 25, 1916

“Aaron Morris, St. Christopher Club, romped home seventh in the five and one-half mile handicap road run staged Memorial Day by St. Michael’s Catholic Club in West Hoboken.  Morris made the best time over the course.”

Source: The New York Age – June 1, 1916

“Aaron Morris a colored lad, finished 5 th out of 1500 runners in the Evening Mail Marathon (12 Miles) in New York City.” Source: The Crisis July 1916

1920
“Aaron Morris and teammate Clifton Mitchell became the first African Americans to run in the historic Berwick Marathon (9 miles) finishing 15th and 11th respectively.

Source: Run for the Diamonds: 100 Years of Footracing in Berwick, PA – Mark Will-Weber – 2008

Negro Running Clubs in 1914:

In 1914 the New York Times assessed the potential of Negro athletes in the New York Metropolitan District of the AAU in this article:

“Negro Athletes Win Many Honors”
Season’s Performances Show Colored Runners to be Factors in A.A.U. Meets.  Recent performances of colored athletes in the Metropolitan District of the Amateur Athletic Union have attracted widespread attention, and should a corresponding progress be made by them in the next three or four years many laurels now worn by white athletes will pass into the keeping of Negroes.  This success has been more noticeable during the last month than at any other time and the fact that our titles were won by colored athletes at the recent small clubs championship, and negroes were prominent in the point table of the Metropolitan title meet has caused a flutter of excitement among the registered athletes in the AAU.  Nor is the present crop of negro runners likely to suddenly cease, for there are many promising colored boys in the public schools of Greater New York.

Up to the present the colored athlete has devoted his attention to track events, especially sprints and middle distances, but with the growth of colored athletic clubs capable trainers will be secured and with systematic development in long-distance events will be certain to bring out long-distance runners and candidates for field honors.  The Negro’s proficiency in athletics has become a source of much speculation and discussion in athletic clubs.  Many of the colored athletes prominent in athletic circles were graduated from public schools in Greater New York but unlike former years, when promising colored athletes received little consideration or encouragement, the student upon graduation can now join a colored athletic organization and continue to compete.
There are three negro athletic clubs in the metropolitan district, which are making rapid strides in the athletic world and scarcely an open meet is now held that does not find representatives of these clubs in the list of competitors.  These organizations are the Salem-Crescent A.C. and St. Christopher’s Club of New York and the Smart Set A.C. of Brooklyn.

Source: The American Marathon, Pamela Cooper, Syracuse University Press, 1998
New York Times; October 18, 1914

Gary Corbitt
Curator: Ted Corbitt Archives

www.tedcorbitt.com

Historian: National Black Marathoners Association (NBMA)
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2 thoughts on “Historic African American Long Distance Running Milestone!

  1. This is amazing! My children are Morris’ and for the fact that I get to print this article and read it to them moves me in ways that words could not justify. He was an phenomenal human being and his legend continues to live through his family members. Thank you for this piece.

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