Isadore Channels and the Roamer Girls: a Great African American Basketball and Tennis Star; Essay by Robert Pruter

To illustrate concept in textIsadore Channels was one of the great African American athletes of the 1920s, a four-time singles winner of the African American national tennis tournament and captain of the top female black basketball team, the Roamer Girls, in Chicago.

 

 

 

 

Isadore Channels is commonly recognized in all the histories of African American tennis and basketball as one of the greats of both games. She established her reputation in Chicago, emerging at the beginning of the 1920s and sustaining herself for more than a decade as both a top basketball star for the Roamers team, and a top tennis star, winning four national singles titles. Despite the tremendous legacy Channels established in African American sports, and her frequent notation in the histories of both African American basketball and tennis virtually nothing had been known about her.

The basic outline of Channels’ life has been uncovered by this author in 2013, but parts of her life remain sketchy.1   She was born Isadore Channels (not Isadora Channels as she was often called throughout her life), on February 1, 1900, in Louisville, Kentucky, to a farm laborer, Allen Channels, and his wife Fannie (nee Adams). Isadore was their only child. While Allen could not read or write, Fannie was listed in the census as literate. For some years the family lived in Louisville, the length of time is unknown. The family does not appear or cannot be found in the censuses of 1910 and 1920, although there is a 1910 listing of an illiterate Allen Channels living alone in the area working as a gardener who may be Isadore’s father. At some point, possibly before 1910, Allen and Fannie were divorced.2

Isadore Channels was located in Chicago by at least late 1916, judging by an item listing in the Chicago Defender that reported that the 16-year old along with her friend Vivian Moss gave a dancing party on New Year’s Day in 1917. By 1919 it is definite that Isadore was playing on African-American tennis courts in the city.3

Channels’ migration to Chicago (possibly accompanying her mother, Fannie) was one of more than 56,000 African Americans who left the South to settle in the city seeking freedom and opportunity between 1910 and 1920. She was also numbered among the 3,164 Kentucky-born migrants to the city in this period. This migration helped to explode Chicago’s African American population in that period from 44,103 (2 percent of the total population) to 109,458 (4 percent) residents. The African American population influx into Chicago was a part of what is called the Great Migration, a massive movement of blacks from the South to the North from World War I to the end of the 1920s, a half a million from 1916-19, and close to another million during the 1920s. Hand in hand with this migration was the explosion in the national circulation of the Chicago Defender, which endlessly reported on the lynchings and everyday social and economic oppression in the South, luring blacks to the North by painting a dramatic contrast to life in the South with reports of freedom and economic opportunity experienced in the North and particularly in Chicago. Isadore Channels, undoubtedly hearing the siren calls from the North, should be counted as among the pioneers in the Great Migration.4

Channels made the most of her freedom and opportunity in Chicago by developing into a national tennis star, learning her sport in a private club owned by African Americans. Such an establishment and the opportunity it presented for blacks would have been unimaginable in the South. Sometime in 1919, Channels began training at the Prairie Tennis Club, perhaps an indication of her middle class aspirations. The club’s co-owner was Mary Ann Seames, usually referred to as Mrs. C. O. Seames, but fondly known as Mother Seames because she was considered founder of African American tennis in Chicago. Seames was 37 years old when she was introduced to tennis in 1906. She was in ill health, and decided to take up the sport to help her get stronger and well. At the time, there were only a handful of black players in the city, one of them being A. L. Turner (father of future tennis star Douglas Turner), who taught Seames’s the game. She became hugely enthusiastic over the sport, and worked avidly to spread its benefits to Chicago’s black community.

The sport received a considerable boost in black Chicago in 1912, when Seames with her husband, Charles O. Seames, and three other African American women formed the Prairie Tennis Club. The initial officers of the club were all men, however, notably Nathan E. Caldwell (an official in the local NAACP) as the first president. The club was originally located at a dirt and clay court, Prairie Avenue and 37th Street, but after three years the Seames’s relocated the court to 35th and Giles Avenue (both locations in the heart of the growing Black Belt).5

By the time Channels arrived at the club in 1919, Mother Seames was the reigning queen of African American tennis in Chicago, consistently winning the city’s women’s singles title every year. The Prairie Tennis Club presented a great opportunity for Channels as it had all the top African American tennis players in the city, and with the best teachers she was sure to blossom into a top player if she had the native athletic ability and the will to learn and work.6

The Prairie Tennis Club was member of a larger organization of African American tennis clubs, called the American Tennis Association (ATA). The ATA was formed in 1916, and what led up to its founding was a long history of segregated tennis, in which the national governing body in the United States, the United Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA), formed in 1881, and its member clubs practiced racial exclusion from their inception. African Americans, as they had in other sports, most notably baseball, were thus forced to build their own institutions and competitions to play competitive tennis. During the 1890-95 period, Tuskegee Institute claimed the lead in pioneering tennis among African Americans in black colleges and universities. But tennis during the 1890s was primarily developed among the African American social elite, who proceeded to build courts and form tennis clubs, and soon by the end of the century a number had been formed, primarily in the Middle Atlantic states and New England. Despite ostracism in polite white society, sports such as tennis and golf thus served as a means toward gaining social capital within black culture.7

By the time of World War I, tennis among African Americans was spreading beyond the Eastern cities, notably with the emergence of an African American tennis scene in Chicago. This expansion set the stage for the formation of the ATA in November of 1916, in Washington DC. Headquarters were set up in New York City, however, where a large proportion of the African American tennis clubs were located. The following year the ATA held its first national tournament, sponsored by the Monumental Club in Baltimore, involving twelve clubs, and three events—men’s singles, women’s singles, and men’s doubles. Each year the tournament grew so that by the 1920s Channels, with the competitive opportunities provided by the ATA was able to become a major champion and a significant athletic figure for her race. Her adoption of tennis would significantly help to socially advance her from a child of an illiterate farm laborer to a middle class status in African American society.8

The ATA at its founding dedicated itself with providing learning opportunities and competitive opportunities in tennis for African Americans. More importantly, tennis was viewed by African Americans as a vehicle to advance the race. The black elite saw tennis as sport of gentlemen and ladies, as it was played by the white elite. Such black aspirants aspired to white social norms because they were the only ones that the dominant mainstream white society would respect. Blacks had to accept and demonstrate that they had reached acceptable levels of “civilization.” The genteel sport of tennis spoke much louder than the victories of black boxers.9

The ATA nationals in 1921 represented the advent of Chicago into the competition, and the city had some players that would surprise the East, notably the unknown Isadore Channels. The progress of Channels had been rapid before her debut in the 1921 nationals, where Chicago was attempting to make an impact by sending five players. By July of 1920 she had won the African American championship for Chicago, dethroning Mother Seames, who reportedly had been women’s singles champion for eight straight years. Seames was due to lose, she was 45 years old. In 1921, Channels repeated as Chicago champion and then surprised the experts in the East when she took second place in the ATA in the women’s singles national championship in September., Channels upset the field, easily beating her opponent in the first round with her “clever stroking and brilliant ground play,” then “overwhelming” the number two-ranked player, Lottie Wade of New York, so that when she lost the finals match in three sets to Lucy Slowe of Baltimore, observers almost considered it an upset by Slowe. The Chicago Defender commented that despite the final match loss, “Miss Channels has undoubtedly the best command of her racquet of any female player seen on the courts.10

The Chicago Defender exclaimed in early 1922, “The rise of Isadore Channels of Chicago is most remarkable. Three years ago this young girl knew nothing of the game, but under the tutorship of two of Chicago’s best gentlemen players she rapidly developed….” The Defender report, unfortunately does not give the names of the “gentlemen players.” What Channels did in terms of African-American women’s tennis was to help develop it into a more national scope by making Chicago a factor in black tennis competition. Her teammate from Chicago at the 1921 nationals, Dr. O. B. Williams, likewise helped establish the city’s reputation, by taking second in men’s singles.11

In 1922, at the ATA nationals in Philadelphia, Channels took her first national women’s title by beating Lottie Wade of New York, which ended the Eastern states’ dominance of the tournament. Her success and the lesser success of other Chicago tennis players were influential factors in the American Tennis Association awarding the national championship tournament to Chicago for 1923. In addition, the Prairie Tennis Club had upgraded to new courts at 32nd and Vernon Avenue. This represented the first time the ATA held its national tournament outside the East, a significant civic recognition for black society in Chicago as it began to assert itself as a challenger to Harlem’s cultural leadership in the African American community.12

Channels was known for a her highly athletic game, as indicated by the following description from Frank Young of the Chicago Defender evaluating her chances before the 1923 championship: “…Miss Isadore, with her mean back-hand and her cross-court drives, her ability to play the net as well as the back court, makes her the strongest contender for the national honors.” In the championship match, which according to the Chicago Defender was played before the largest crowd ever to see an ATA national championship match, Channels again defeated Lottie Wade.13

African American journalists and their readers as well would often confer upon exceptional black entertainers and sports stars sobriquets that would associate them to their white counterparts in achievement. For example, nineteenth-century African American opera singer, Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones, was famously called “The Black Patti” after the famed Italian opera singer Adelina Patti.   Channels was receiving the same kind of recognition in the black press, when the Chicago Defender gave her the sobriquet “the Bronze Helen Wills,” after the United States top woman tennis player. Edgar Brown in his column for the Afro American on the 1923 nationals, while not directly using a sobriquet, referred to Channels as “our own Mme. Lenglen,” to compare Channels to the great French tennis star, Suzanne Lenglen. Recognizing his readers were painfully aware that their stars were not\being given the opportunity to compete against the white stars, Browne said of Channels, “I think Miss Channels would hold her own with the best tournament players of the world and I hope to see the day come when she will be competing for the great lawn tennis trophy pitted in the finals against Mlle. Lenglen, the so far invincible French woman.14

Channels’ career peaked in the 1924 nationals, at the Monumental Club in Baltimore, not only winning singles for the third consecutive year, but also winning women’s doubles and taking second in mixed doubles. In the singles title game, Channels beat a new tennis star from Philadelphia, Lulu Ballard, a 100-pound 16-year old schoolgirl from Germantown High. This victory was no sure thing, however, because a week earlier in a Philadelphia tournament, Channels was upset by Ballard in straight sets, certainly an intimation of things to come in Channels’ tennis future. Channels was teamed up with a New Yorker, Miss Leonard, in doubles, and the pair coasted to the championship, beating an all-Chicago pairing of Dorothy Radcliff and Mrs. C. O. Seames. In mixed doubles Channels was teamed up with another Chicagoan, Richard Hudlin, and lost a close battle for the championship. Channels led a Chicago contingent that emphatically reinforced that the East was no longer domina.15

Meanwhile, Channels was also building a reputation as one of the top amateur women basketball players in the city. She was one of the founding members of the Roamer Girls, which formed during the 1920-21 season. The amateur women’s basketball scene in Chicago was ramping up at that time, and in the African American community the first notable women’s teams were the Roamers, organized by famed black athlete  Sol Butler, who coached the team. Butler was one of the most renowned multi-sports stars in the African-American community, an Olympian with many track titles to his credit. Chicago was some years behind the East Coast in developing women’s basketball teams in the African American community. As early as 1911, in the New York boroughs, such women’s teams as the New York Girls and the Spartan Athletic Club girls team were competing for the metropolitan championship. In Washington DC, the African American YWCA sponsored a women’s team as early as the 1911-12 season.16

The first black women’s teams in Chicago came out of the church. The Roamers were formed from a group of girls in the Grace Presbyterian Sunday School (when Sunday schools served children until adults), probably in 1920, and initially went by the name Roamers Athletic Club. Their closest rival in the black community was the Olivet Cosmopolitans, who were from the Olivet Church Sunday School.17

The Roamer Girls, like most women teams in Chicago, played a brand of women’s basketball that was highly athletic, played under men’s rules, which was supported and sponsored by the Central AAU. A game in late March of 1921 showed how great an athlete Channels had already become, when she contributed 20 of the team’s 26 points to beat the Roamer Girls’ closest competitors, the Olivet Cosmopolitans. That Channels competed in amateur basketball in Chicago with men’s rules is significant in evaluating her legacy as an imposing athlete.    The Central AAU had no color line for its competition, and amateur African American teams competed in both its tournament and league competition. Although local high schools had integrated teams, there does not appear to be any evidence of integrated teams in the AAU amateur scene.18

Meanwhile, while Channels was competing on a high-level amateur basketball team and winning national tennis titles, she was working as a “packer” (possibly in the stockyards), according to the Polk’s Chicago Directory of 1923. However, she left the job the following year to return to high school at an advanced age of 24, attending Phillips High on the city’s South Side during the 1924-25 and 1925-26 school years.19

To illustrate concept in text

Isadore Channels at Phillips High School

While some other Chicago high schools had girls’ teams that competed interscholastically, Phillips did not have one, and did not even have an intramural program.29  In her junior year at the school, in 1925, Channels served as captain on the captain basketball team (captain basketball was played without a basket). Captain basketball was basically a passing game, in which the players on each team would advance the ball from each of their three sectors to get the ball to the captain standing under where the basket would be to catch the ball for a winning point. This showed the disparity between educators and the amateur sports world in the 1920s. Channels was playing in Chicago’s highly competitive amateur basketball scene, playing a rough and tumble aggressive men’s game, while educators at Phillips and some other Chicago high schools had Channels playing this tame exercise.20

When Phillips High would play a big intersectional game or a cross-state game, as against Armstrong from Washington DC and Peoria Spalding from central Illinois, the game was usually preceded by the Roamers playing another amateur team. Preceding the Armstrong game, in February 1925, for example, Channels led the Roamer Girls to a 29-3 victory over a white team from the suburbs, the Harvey Bloomers, scoring 19 of her team’s points. Her performance was described in the Chicago Defender, thusly: “Scoring and passing at will and even at times joking with the Harvey girls, she played a game far above the heads of her opponents and far in advance of her colleagues.”21

As much as Channels and the Roamer Girls easily handled some of the white teams in the Chicago area, they were rarely competitive with the big three -—the Brownies, the Taylor Trunks, and the Jewissh People’s Institute Girls–and were always eliminated before the finals of the Central AAU tournament.. The Roamer Girls were also the first African-American team to compete in one of the many leagues in which the white teams competed, the Windy City Basketball League, but performed only so so in competition. For example in December of 1924, the Roamers were defeated by the Welles Park Arrows, with the great Violet Krubaeck, 12-4, all the Roamers points being scored by Channels. On the other hand, in two Windy City contests against the Bethlehem Community Center, the Roamer Girls easily won both contests. Channels, playing forward, contributed points in both games, but was not the leading scorer. In March of 1926, the Roamers competed against one of the big three, the JPI Girls, in a preliminary game prior to the Phillips High-Peoria Spaulding game, and lost 20-8. Channels, who was a senior at Phillips High, was cited as “the best player” for the Roamers. Later in March, in the Central AAU tournament, the Roamers were eliminated by the top team in Chicago, the Tri-Chis (who later became the Taylor Trunks) by an embarrassing score of 24 to 2.22

The Roamers ended the 1926 basketball season with a game in April against their long-time rivals, the Olivet Cosmopolitans. The contest was played at the Eighth Regiment Armory before a record crowd, and the Roamers edged out a victory in overtime, 16 to 15, when, Channels made the winning basket with one of her “famous long shots from near the center.” The Chicago Defender reporter noted that the game demonstrated the “girls can charge and play as hard at basketball as boys.”23

Phillips also had a girls’ tennis club, which competed intramurally, but no contests were permitted with outside schools, as did many other Chicago high schools then. About a dozen Chicago high schools competed in tennis in the Chicago Public High School League-sponsored dual meet and tournament competition. Channels served as coach of the team, and the yearbook proudly noted that she was “national champion.” She was not on the team, given she was probably far above her fellow students in talent. Channels graduated from Phillips High in June 1926 (at the ripe age of 26), and at this time retired from basketball, ending her career with the Roamers, at least for a while. Following her departure, the Roamers disbanded, with most of the members founding a new team, the Community Girls.24

Then the Roamer Girls, which had disbanded in 1926, came together again for the 1927-28 season, but without Isadore Channels. The Roamer Girls—with some of the top players in black Chicago—competed in an African-American league, and took the championship, but for some reason disbanded again at the end of the season. But for the 1929-30 season the Roamers reconstituted themselves again, and saw Channels returning to play. Along with Channels, this formidable team included Lulu Porter, Corinne Robinson, Miglin Burns, Henrietta Seames, and the greatest player in the East, Ora Washington. The Roamers won the weeks long tournament in early February, and touted themselves as the “western champion.” Again the Roamer Girls disbanded at the end of the season. But in the next season, 1930-31, Channels, along with another outstanding tennis player, Lulu Porter, were playing with a team called the Val Donnas.25

Meanwhile, in her tennis career, things were not going well for Channels in 1925. Her reign as three-time national champion in women’s single tennis was looking seriously imperiled as the summer wore on. At the ATA’s New York State Tennis championships in August, Channels was eliminated in a first round match, in three sets to rising tennis star Ora Mae Washington of Philadelphia. Washington won eight consecutive national singles tennis titles from 1929 to 1937, and was the star of the top black women’s basketball team in the nation, the Philadelphia Tribunes. In 1925, at the nationals in Bordentown, NJ, Channels again met high school phenom Lulu Ballard, whom she had conquered the previous year. But this return meeting proved different, as Channels succumbed to Ballard in two quick sets.26

Upon her graduation from Phillips in June of 1926, Channels concentrated honing her tennis game during the summer, and was able to regain her national tennis singles championship in August, in St. Louis, getting her revenge on Ballard in a close match. Thereafter, however, Channels never won another ATA singles title. Nonetheless, by winning a fourth singles title, she cemented her legacy as one of the great African American female tennis players of all time.27

In July of 1927, Channels moved to Roanoke, Virginia, to pursue a nursing education. Her nursing training was apparently partially completed by at least 1929, because she is listed in the Richmond, Virginia, directory as a nurse, working at Memorial Hospital, perhaps serving a residency. In her new career of nursing, Channels did not leave the world of discrimination and segregation, If she had read the Chicago Defender from October 1928 she might have noticed a story on an African American nurse who was accepted for a job at a New York hospital by mail, but when she arrived she was barred from employment. While the tennis tournament reports listed Channels as being from Roanoke during her schooling, her permanent address according to the 1930 census was Chicago, living with her mother, Fannie, as lodgers in the residence of a playground instructor.28

While Channels no longer was winning national singles titles, she was still one of the top players in the late 1920s, taking second in singles to Lula Ballard of Philadelphia in the nationals in both 1927 and 1928, and taking second in women’s doubles in 1927. Her career was in decline, however, judging from national rankings, which were usually released in March or April before the season begins, and which reflects the previous year’s activity. Channels was listed fourth in women’s singles in 1929 and fifth in 1930. In the 1931 rankings, Channels was not even listed in the women’s singles, probably indicating that she had largely withdrawn from singles competition. She maintained a third place ranking in women’s doubles and a fourth place ranking in mixed doubles.29

For a time Channels boarded with the Dunham family in Chicago, and Caldwell Dunham fondly remembers as a youngster her coming into the household always carrying in her tennis rackets. He did not recall much, but one rumor about Channels stuck in his mind: “My older sister remembers an incident that would suggest that she was a lesbian.” Perhaps pertaining to this, Dan Burley, Chicago Defender columnist, commented in 1959, “She sat in front of me in high school…Man, I was afraid of her…And you would have been too!…Isadore was muscular and could use that muscle too.” Burley’s coded language is unmistakable.30

Channels was from an era when it was extremely rare for any public individual—athlete, entertainer, or politician—to voluntarily reveal sexual orientation. Homosexuality was held so beyond the pale that Channels would find those of her orientation in her everyday world assailed with such ugly terms as degenerates, queers, perverts, and deviants. The Chicago Defender and mainstream newspapers rarely mentioned homosexuality, and usually would abjure the word itself for such circumlocutory words as “unnatural” and “perversion.” It was also extremely rare for members of the media to “out” a figure that insiders knew were homosexual. Channels, like the great Bill Tilden during his heyday and other notable athletes of the time, never revealed her sexual orientation, and the press during her career never even mentioned it or even hinted at it.31

Early in 1933, Channels was again competing in basketball in yet another reconstituted Roamer Girls team. The Roamers apparently became a barnstorming team for the first time, as evident by a report of a game on January 17, playing and losing to a local white men’s team in Wakefield, Michigan. The Roamers were built up in the local press as “the outstanding women’s basketball team in the United States.” Ten days later, Channels was playing with the St. Nicholas Harlem Big Five team of New York City (managed by Channels’ former playing partner in Chicago, Blanche Wilson). Playing in Philadelphia, the Harlem Big Five found the Ora Washington-led Philadelphia Tribune team was too much for them, and were shellacked 30-5. The Harlem Big Five may have been the last basketball team that Channels played on, as she was 33 at the time.32

Some time in 1933, Channels was back in Roanoke, Virginia, which served as her base for a limited competitive schedule. In tennis, she occasionally competed at a high level, taking second in a singles championship to Ora Washington at the Midwest Tennis Tournament, for example, in 1933. Her last national ranking listing in any category, however, dated back to March of 1931.33

By 1934, Channels was working as a hospital nurse in Atlanta, and out of tennis by that time. Channels had certainly risen to a middle class existence, from her birth to an illiterate farm laborer in the South, to a nationally known tennis star working at a respectable profession. In 1935, Channels was working in hospitals in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she stayed the next five years. Every city Channels worked she brought her mother along with her, but in July of 1936 that arrangement ended when Fannie died at the age of 70. Channels had no family at this point. She was well retired from tennis competition, In 1940, Channels moved to St. Louis to work as a nurse.34

In 1947, Channels moved to the small city of Sikeston, in southeastern Missouri. With her registered nursing degree she got a position as Public Health Nurse in the District No. 2 Health Office, where she originally served the African American population of Scott and Mississippi counties. By 1953, she was working in the Sikeston school system, serving as the school nurse for Lincoln School. The notices in the local newspaper mentioned Channels positions and some community activities, but made no mention of her previous status as an tennis champion. Channels possibly never mentioned her previous tennis fame.35

Channels during her last decade of life had health issues, frequently in and out of hospitals. In 1953 she was in the local hospital twice for surgery (reason unknown), and again in 1957. The last mention of Channels appeared in the local Sikeston newspaper in June of 1958, when it reported that she was admitted into the local hospital. Channels was suffering from complications due to diabetes at this time, and while bedridden at home she developed bronchial pneumonia and died a year later, on June 30. 1959. Her death certificate shows no known relatives. Her death went unreported in any kind of press, black or white, and remained unknown for decades afterwards.36

Isadore Channels’ legacy is that as one of the great African American athletes of the 1920s. While she has not been elected to any basketball hall of fame, she was elected to the Black Tennis Hall of Fame in 2011. Isadore Channels was neglected and forgotten during her lifetime and afterwards and overlooked by the public and chroniclers. Her life is now partly recovered, and deservingly in future years her achievements and legacy will be more richly remembered and celebrated in African American sports history, as well as Chicago sports history.

Notes

  1. Robert Pruter, “Isadore Channels: The Recovered Life of an African American Sports Star,” Before Jackie Robinson: The Transcendent Role of Black Sporting Pioneers, edited by Gerald R. Gems, Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2017, pp.179-203. The profile on Channels here is an edited and shortened version of the essay in the Before Jackie RobinsonTwelfth Census of the United States, Schedule No. 1.– Population, Bureau of the Census, Kentucky, Jefferson County, Louisville, Ward 1, Enumeration District 5, Sheet 11B (Washington, DC:: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972);2.   Robert Pruter, “Isadore Channels: The Recovered Life of an African American Sports Star,” Before Jackie Robinson: The Transcendent Role of Black Sporting Pioneers, edited by Gerald R. Gems, Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2017, pp.179-203. The profile on Channels here is an edited and shortened version of the essay in the Before Jackie Robinson collection.

 

  1. Twelfth Census of the United States, Schedule No. 1.– Population, Bureau of the Census, Kentucky, Jefferson County, Louisville, Ward 1, Enumeration District 5, Sheet 11B (Washington, DC:: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972); “Kentucky Births and Christenings, 1839-1960,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FWNP-PYS; Allen Channels , 01 Feb 1900; citing Louisville, Jefferson, Kentucky, reference Vol 1 Pg 168; FHL microfilm 209689 [Isadore is incorrectly listed as Allen but it is clearly the birth record for her]; Missouri Division of Health, Standard Certificate of Death, Isadora M. Channels, 16 July 1959; Thirteenth Census of the United States: 1910 Population, Bureau of the Census. Kentucky, Jefferson County, Harrods Creek; Enumeration District 0005, Sheet 6A (Washington, DC, National Archives and Records Administration, 1982); The 1910 listing differs on two facts, two years difference in birth year and the listing as “widowed,” but the latter might be because the illiterate Allen did not understand what “widowed” meant.

 

  1. “Society,” Chicago Defender, 13 January 1917. I qualified my comment with “somewhat sure” on when Channels began learning tennis at the Prairie Tennis Club, because the date was based on an article on Channels from 1922 that said she had been with the club for three years.

 

  1. James R. Grossman, Land of Hope: Chicago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1991), 3-4, 81-82, 269-70; Thirteenth Census of the United States, Volume II, Population 1910, Alabama-Montana, Bureau of the Census (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1913), p. 504; Fourteenth Census of the United States, Volume III, Population 1920, Bureau of the Census (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1922), p. 261.

 

  1. “CPTC History,” Chicago Prairie Tennis Club [http://www.cptc.com], 2013; “Mary Ann Seames Mother of Tennis Buried in Chicago,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 30 March 1940; Edwin Bancroft Henderson, The Negro In Sports (Washington, DC: The Associated Publishers, Inc., 1949 revised edition), p. 217.

 

  1.  Ibid.

 

  1. Djata, pp. 3-5; Frank A. Young, “National Net Play at Saint Louis,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 7 August 1926; Henderson, p. 204.

 

  1. Henderson, p. 206; Djata, p. 4.

 

  1. L. Jackson, “The Onlooker: A Popular Champion,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 1 September 1923.

 

  1. “Washington Gets National Tennis Championships; Ratings Given Out,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 9 April 1921; “Woman’s Championship Goes to Miss I. Channels,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 21 July 1920; “Isadora Channells (sic) Wins Tennis Championship,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 30 July 1921; “Tennis Stars in Washington for Big Tournament,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 20 August 1921; Gerald F. Norman, “Tally Holmes Wins National Tennis Championship Title,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 3 September 1921.

 

  1. “Tennis Ass’n Ratings for 1921 Given Out,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 18 February 1922; Frank Young, “City Tennis Championship Causes Many Big Surprises,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 12 August 1922; Norman, “Tally Holmes Wins.”

 

  1. “National Woman’s Tennis Champion” , Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 2 September 1922; “Chicago Gets 1923 National Tennis Championship Meet,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 26 August 1922

 

  1. Frank Young, “National Tennis Tournament News,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 11 August 1923; “Chicagoans Win Two Tennis Titles,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 1 September 1923.

 

  1. John Graziano, “The Early Life and Career of the ‘Black Patti’: The Odyssey of an African American Singer in the Late Nineteenth Century,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 53, no. 3 (Autumn 2000), p. 566; “The Bronze Helen Wills” , Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 30 August 1924; Edgar G. Brown, ”Our Women Tennis Players Rank High,” Afro-American, 18 May 1923; Edgar Brown, “Kemp and Miss Channels Best Tennis Players of 1923, Says Edgar Brown,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 19 April 1924.

 

  1. “100-Pound Lulu Ballard Beats Channels in PA.,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 23 August 1924; “Miss Channels Wins National Women’s Tennis Championship,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 30 August 1924.

 

  1. James E. Odenkirk, “Sol Butler: The Fleeting Fame of a World-Class Black Athlete,” Before Jackie Robinson: The Transcendent Role of Black Sporting Pioneers, edited by Gerald R. Gems, (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2017), 139-154; Edwin B. Henderson and William A. Joiner, editors, Official Handbook: Inter-Scholastic Athletic Association of Middle Atlantic States 1911 (New York: American Sports Publishing Co., 1911), pp. 44 and 58; Edwin B. Henderson and Garnet C. Wilkinson, editors, Official Handbook: Interscholastic Athletic Association of Middle Atlantic States 1912 (New York: American Sports Publishing Co., 1912), p. 10.

 

  1. “Pollie Richman Leads Roamer Girls to Victory” [headline misleading], Chicago Defender, 26 March 1921; “Roamer Girls after Games Present a Strong Lineup,” Chicago Defender, 22 October 1921.

 

  1. Harland Rohm, ”Boys’ Rules Speed Girls’ Basket Games,” Chicago Tribune, 27 December 1926; Walter Eckersall, “New London Five Puts Out I.A.C. in Basket Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 12 March 1919; Chicago Teams to Play in A.A.U. Cage Tourney,” Chicago Tribune, 12 February 1922; “Brownie Girls Down Institute; A.A.U. Fives Reach Semifinals,” Chicago Tribune, 4 March 1922; “Girl Quintets To Meet Here in C.A.A.U. Tourney,” Chicago Tribune, 4 February 1923; “Drawings Made for C.A.A.U. Cage Event,” Chicago Tribune, 11 March 1923; “Roamers Win and Lose; Will Meet Olivet Five,” Chicago Defender, 20 December 1924; “Roamer Girls Win in Third Overtime Period,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 24 January 1925; “Roamer Girls Lose to Tri-Chis, 24 to 2,” Chicago Defender, 20 March 1926.

 

  1. Polk’s Chicago Directory 1923 (Chicago: R. L. Polk & Co., 1923), p. 1080.

 

  1. “Basketball,” Centurion 1922 (Chicago: Senn High School, 1922), 149; “Basketball,” Schurzone 1926 (Chicago: Schurz High School, February 1926), 125; The Red and Black June, 1925 (Chicago: Phillips High School, June 1925), 161-64; “The Captainball Team,” The Red and Black, June, 1925 (Chicago: Wendell Phillips High School, 1925), 162-63.

 

  1. Wm. Jesse Lovell, “Phillips Takes Basketball Game From Armstrong by 25-15 Score Before 4,500,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 21 February 1925.

 

  1. “Roamers Win and Lose; Will Meet Olivet Five,” Chicago Defender, 20 December 1924; “Roamer Girls Win in Third Overtime Period,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 24 January 1925; “Roamer Girls Meet Bethlehems Tuesday,” 16 January 1926; “Peoria Hi Beats Phillips Five,” Chicago Defender, 6 March 1926; “Roamer Girls Lose to Tri-Chis, 24-2,” Chicago Defender, 20 March 1926.

 

  1. “Izzy Channels’ Basket in Closing Seconds of Play Beats Olivet Church Five,” Chicago Defender, 17 April 1926.

 

  1. “The Girls’ Tennis Club,” The Red and Black, June, 1925 (Chicago: Wendell Phillips High School, 1925), 164; “Girls Tennis Stars To Play In Annual Tennis Tournament,” Harrison Herald, 14 May 1926; “Lindblom Girls Win City Prep Tennis Tourney,” Chicago Tribune, 17 June 1926. Proceedings, July 8, 1925 to June 23, 1926 (Chicago: Board of Education, City of Chicago, 1926), p. 1817.

 

  1. “Girl Cage Stars Sign with Mid-City Outfit,” Chicago Defender, 23 October 1926; “Roamers Win,” Chicago Defender, 8 February 1930; “Val Donnas Lose,” Chicago Defender, 7 February 1931.

 

  1. “Miss Isadora Channels Is Beaten in First Round by Ora Washington of Phila.,” New York Age, 22 August 1925; “Thompson Beats Brown for Net Crown,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 5 September 1925; Leslie Heaphy, “Ora Mae Washington: Tennis and Basketball Queen,” Black Sports, The Magazine, February 2007, pp. 36-37; Pamela Grundy, “Ora Washington: The First Black Female Athletic Star,” in Out of the Shadows: A Biographical History of African American Athletes, ed. David K. Wiggins (Fayetteville, Ark: University of Arkansas Press, 2006), 79-92; Edgar G. Brown, “Miss Ballard Touted To Beat Woman’s Tennis Champion,” Afro-American, 4 September 1925.

 

  1. Frank A. Young, “National Net Play at Saint Louis,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 7 August 1926; Frank A. Young, “Saitch Wins National Net Crown,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 28 August 1926.

 

  1. Hill’s Roanoke Salem and Vinton Virginia City Directory 1927, p. 164, Ancestry.com. U.S. Directories, 1821-1989 (beta) [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA, 2011; “The Week,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 13 October 1928; Hill’s Richmond Virginia City Directory 1929, p. 380, Ancestry.com. U.S. Directories, 1821-1989 (beta) [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA, 2011; Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Population Schedule, Bureau of the Census. Illinois, Cook County, Chicago, Enumeration District 0146, Sheet 24B (Washington, DC: National Records and Census Administration, 2002).

 

  1. “Finals of the National Women’s Doubles,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 3 September 1927; “Edgar Brown Regains Net Crown,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 1 September 1928; “Doctor to Enter Final Play for Tennis Laurels,” [unidentified African American newspaper clip], August 1931; “1929 Tennis Ratings Show Many Shifts Among Stars,” Afro-American, 8 March 1930; “Doug Turner, Ora Washington Lead Men and Women Tennis Players in Ratings of 1930,” Chicago Defender, 14 March 1931.

 

  1. Caldwell Dunham, email to author, 8 December 2008; Dan Burley, “What’s Wrong with Women,” Chicago Defender, 1 September 1959.

 

  1. “Orgies Ruin Characters in Los Angeles Colony,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 20 September 1930; “Pastor Reveals Divorce Charges: Wife Unnatural, Says Rev. Spencer Carpenter,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 1 August 1931; “Undertaker Is Acquitted by Judge in Private Hearing,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 13 March 1932; Frank Deford, Big Bill Tilden: The Triumphs and the Tragedy (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1976), 40-41.

 

  1. “Mentors Book Colored Girls,” Ironwood Daily Globe, 10 January 1933; “Mentors Will play Colored Women’s Team,” The Wakefield News, 14 January 1933; “Mentors Win Contest From Colored Quintet,” Ironwood Daily Globe,17 January 1933; Randy Dixon, “Philly Girls Seek to Bring to Philly Undisputed National Crown,” Philadelphia Tribune, 19 January 1933; “N.Y. Girls Bow to Philly,” I, 28 January 1933.

 

  1. H. Williams, “Hampton Prepares for Annual Clay Tennis Tourney.” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 5 August 1933; Ralph Brown, “Hudlin Retains Midwest Tennis Crown,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 9 September 1933.

 

  1. Arthur P. Chippey, “Jackson Boys Hold Top in Annual Net Ratings,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 13 April 1935; Atlanta, Georgia, City Directory, 1934, p. 279, Ancestry.com. U.S. Directories, 1821-1989 (beta) [database on-line], Provo, UT, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Knoxville, Tennessee, City Directory, 1935, p. 746, Ancestry.com. U.S. Directories, 1821-1989 (beta) [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011; Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, TN; Tennessee Death Records, 1909-1959; Roll #11, Certificate #32694, Ancestry.com. Tennessee, Death Records, 1908-1951 [database on-line], Provo, UT, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., USA, 2011; Knoxville, Tennessee, City Directory, 1940, p. 785, Ancestry.Com. U.S. Directories, 1821-1989 (beta) [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

 

  1. Fourteenth Census of the United States: 1920–Population, Bureau of the Census, Missouri, St. Louis, St. Louis City; Ward 17, Enumeration District 96-424, Sheet 14B (Washington, DC, National Archives and Records Administration, 1992); : St. Louis, Missouri, City Directory, 1944, Ancestry.Com. U.S. Directories, 1821-1989 (beta) [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011; “Public Health Nursing Week Set for Apr. 20-26,” Sikeston Standard, 22 April 1947; “Health Office Will Be Closed Next Week,” Sikeston Herald, 20 April 1950; “Mild Influenza Epidemic Hits City Schools,” Sikeston Daily Standard, 13 January 1953; “Most of Sikeston’s Teachers Have Been Hired for Next Year,” Sikeston Herald, 2 June 1954.

 

  1. Hospital Notes” Sikeston Daily Standard, 16 June 1953; “Hospital Notes” Sikeston Daily Standard, 19 June 1953; “Hospital Notes” Sikeston Daily Standard, 25 June 1953; “Hospital Notes” Sikeston Daily Standard, 13 August 1953; “Hospital Notes” Sikeston Daily Standard, 19 August 1953; “Hospital Notes” Sikeston Daily Standard, 21 January 1957; “Hospital Notes,” Sikeston Herald, 26 June 1958; Missouri Division of Health, Standard Certificate of Death, Isadora M. Channels, 16 July 1959.

 

 

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