The photograph above shows two teams, one dressed in a pale kit the other wearing a darker color. Close examination of the image seems to reveal that one of the teams might include Black players. The museum has an excellent tool that allows visitors to enlarge the image up to 200% without losing much of the resolution [click here to access the image]. Of course, determining the skin color of the players in an old black and white photograph is no easy matter. The earliest documented Black soccer club in the city was the Spartan Athletic Club formed in 1908. After WWI more clubs appeared including Fulton FC, Western Tigers, Falcon FC, Maple AC, Excelsior Club, Colonials and Maroons. Many of these teams were formed by immigrants from the West Indies, a population that reached around 40,000 by the 1930s.
The pitches at Central Park were commonly used for Metropolitan League games during the 1920s and presumably before that. It may be the case that other local leagues also played on the fields especially given their location in the heart of the city. Many other parks and playing fields existed but were generally located on the fringes of Manhattan or in other boroughs including Brooklyn and the Bronx. Given that there is so little concrete information on Black clubs its almost impossible to identify what club if any may have been photographed playing in the game, although from newspaper reports we know that during the 1920s the Maroons and Falcon FC were competing against white clubs. If further research was able to determine that the club depicted was indeed one of the Black clubs, or just that some of the players were Black, the photograph likely represents one of the earliest images of soccer players of color in the United States.
A version of this essay was originally published at www.SoccerHistoryUSA.org in November 2013.