On March 4, 1928, in Los Angeles, California, six Black runners, including Eddie Gardner and Phillip Granville, took off on the Trans-American Footrace down Route 66 cross-continental highway.
The course took them and 193 (mostly) white men through Mojave desert heat, thin mountain air, and terrible road conditions on a quest for opportunity much bigger than them. But vile hatred lay just ahead.
American sports were not yet integrated, but the “Bunion Derby” was an exception.
While spectators wondered who would snag the $25,000 prize, Black athletes prepared for the Jim Crow hatred waiting across the New Mexico-Texas border.
As soon as the Black “bunioneers” crossed into Southern territory, spectators attacked with slurs, death threats, and laws that forced them to sleep in segregated quarters.
An Oklahoma farmer even pointed a rifle at Eddie Gardner for an entire day, promising to shoot if Gardner took the lead from a white man.
Thankfully, Black communities welcomed the “bunioneers” with money, meals, beds, protection, and hope to last the long road ahead.
Ultimately, Phillip Granville took home 3rd place ($5,000) while Eddie Garder snagged 8th ($1,000).
Their performance proved that Black athletes deserve to compete alongside white professionals and, for once, the playing field was leveled for Black men to rise in status off of merit alone.