“Man Sitting Pumping Up a Ball”, 1925
Authored by Sarah Jane Kline ’21 in “Who is Included? Black Staff and Study at Davidson College“
last updated 02.09.2021
This physical exclusion remained for Black staff on Davidson’s campus, but at the turn of the 20th century, the relationship between Black workers and the academy shifted towards an analysis of struggle for inclusion which brings me to “Man Sitting Pumping Up a Ball” (1925). The year in which this photograph was captured, the janitorial staff all wore white coats, however, this “janitor” is pumping up a football (DCASC, “Always Part of the Fabric: A Supplement, 1901-1962,” n.d.). He sits, pumping air into this football he most certainly is restricted from playing with, made clear by his proximity to a building and the wildly uncut grass – that is no site for a formal, college football match. This man’s support of Davidson’s football team, through his work, yields success on behalf of the all-white team. The Davidsonian reported in October 1925: “The Davidson Wildcats have risen from the ranks of mediocrity and now have an enviable position in football circles” (“Back Home,” p. 4). Indeed, as this man’s job is to use his exclusion to position the all-white football team into inclusion within football circles, he also pumps life into the exercises of the white male student-athletes’ bodies. Their exercise keeps their minds active and healthy, but this man goes without recognition or inclusion that he is the backbone of their success on the field, and to a certain extent, in the classroom.
Meanwhile, even though this man’s body might not be exercising, hence the paradox of holding a football outside and not playing football, sitting in a titled back chair with a distant gaze symbolizes his position to the game, the students, and the historical moment (“Man sitting pumping up a ball,” 1925). Indeed, his position reveals Black study latent in the photograph. Other than observing and studying the sport being played before him that is taking place outside of the frame, which constitutes a type of “Black study,” I focus on his gaze and the chair in light of hooks’ (1994) notions of the “snapshot;” she writes that snapshots are “photographs taken in everyday life” that “rebelled against … any notion of remaking black bodies in the image of whiteness” (p. 50). The snapshot here does not attempt to remake this man in the image of whiteness but rather potentially reveals his recognition of the way he is seen by the person on the other side of the camera; his white coat signifies his class status as janitor. Thus, this everyday image potentially lays bare “This double-consciousness,” as Du Bois (1903) writes, “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes [or lens] of others” (p. 3). Double consciousness, then, is an idea through which to conceptualize this man’s relational existence as a site for, and act of, Black study at Davidson. On campus just years before, in 1918, lectures were given about the “Negro Problem” and “Race was being treated as an intellectual … concern” (DCASC, “Always Part of the Fabric: A Supplement, 1901-1962,” n.d.). Therefore, there is grounds to believe in the intellectual weight of the chair, the football, and his positionality as signifiers for submission and exclusion. Indeed, Du Bois (1903) reminds us that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line,” so we must ask what, or who, was “out-of-bounds” for study or play (p. 20)?