The ring tournament is an American version of the medieval jousting tradition that had been reserved for the white wealthy planter elite in America for generations. After the Civil War it became an African American cultural practice, whose history has been all but lost to time. Immediately following emancipation, ex-slaves across the South began hosting and participating in ring tournaments through which they asserted their agency while harnessing the sport’s ability to empower the riders and their communities. The tournaments also influenced local politics and challenged power structures. In essence, the black tournaments became a symbol of freedom. The figure of a black man mounted on horseback wielding a dangerous lance, while magnificent in the eyes of African Americans and abolitionists, outraged many white tournament riders and intrigued spectators from every race and class. Nevertheless, black tournaments stamped an enduring impression on spectators across the South and the Union, as the events were reported on in the press nationwide. Even as the ex-Confederates in the New South grasped at the fragments of their shattered pride and its castle walls began to crumble, Black Knights and Black Queens rose as symbols of resistance that signaled imminent cultural shifts and power struggles in the South for generations to come.
★ Best Student Paper Award Winner
Hanson, Lauren S. and Harris, Carmen
"Tilting Toward Freedom: African American Ring Tournaments in a Postbellum South,"
University of South Carolina Upstate Student Research Journal: Vol. 14, Article 3.
Available at: https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/uscusrj/vol14/iss1/3