At a time when racism was all-too prevalent, a black Windsor athlete never had the opportunity to play in a leading sports league.
Assumption College grad Fred Thomas (BA 1949) was a groundbreaking athlete who dominated any sport he played. He played baseball in the Cleveland Indians farm system and football with the Toronto Argonauts, and in 1945 led a contingent of local basketball players in a victory over the Harlem Globetrotters.
In a profile titled “The greatest Canadian athlete you’ve never heard of” published on the TV Ontario website, writer Sam Riches details how racial barriers kept Thomas out of major leagues, including his exclusion in 1952 from the Canadian Olympic basketball team.
UWindsor history professor Miriam Wright is quoted as citing the continuing relevance of Thomas’s experience.
“In Canada, we can’t overlook these stories of racial segregation and overt discrimination,” she said. “So many of these stories have been buried. African-Canadian history was not something that was considered important or was only considered in the context of the Underground Railroad story.”
Local accolades included the naming of Fred Thomas Park in downtown Windsor and his posthumous induction in the inaugural class of the University of Windsor Alumni Sports Hall of Fame, but Riches writes Thomas may finally get his due.
“Last year, he was nominated for Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, the nation’s highest sporting honour, starting the clock on a three-year consideration window.”