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Exhibit at New York Historical Society celebrates Black trailblazers of the NYC Marathon

Among the luminaries celebrated for their contributions to the New York City Marathon are two African Americans, Ted Corbitt and Joseph Yancey. Their legacies are immortalized in an exhibit at the New York Historical Society Museum & Library.

Edric Robinson

Feb 15, 2024, 5:32 PM

Updated 153 days ago

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Among the luminaries celebrated for their contributions to the New York City Marathon are two African Americans, Ted Corbitt and Joseph Yancey. Their legacies are immortalized in an exhibit at the New York Historical Society Museum & Library.
Curator Marilyn Kushner describes the exhibit as a homage to "a coach and a runner," encapsulating the profound impact of Corbitt and Yancey on the landscape of long-distance running and the iconic New York City Marathon. 
The exhibit traces the origins of their influence, with Yancey founding the New York Pioneer Club in 1936 - a pivotal moment following the Harlem riots.
"He wanted to start a club for young men, the women were invited in later, young Black men, and they would be trained how to run but also how to be gentlemen," said Kushner.
Visitors are invited to journey through key milestones in the club's history, including pivotal moments such as Yancey leading his team in a stand against segregation, exemplifying the intersection of athleticism and activism.
“The Pioneer walked out of that meet because the Black athletes were not allowed to stay at the same hotel that the white athletes would,” said Kushner. 
The exhibit also showcases artifacts such as the uniform worn by Corbitt in the 1952 Olympics, where he became the first African American to represent the U.S. in the marathon. It was one of hundreds he would compete in throughout his life. Corbitt's innovative spirit is highlighted as one of the creators of the New York City Marathon. 
"It was Ted Corbitt who really came up with the idea of using a wheel to measure to the final inch what a marathon should be," said Kushner. 
“A lot of the folks you’ll see in that exhibit were early visionaries when it came to having the NYC Marathon, Ted Corbitt was really one of the founding fathers of not just New York Road Runners but of the marathon itself,” said Rob Simmelkjaer, CEO of NYRR. 
The Pioneer Club that was started by Yancey was the predecessor to the NYRR club, which organizes the New York City Marathon. Today, Simmelkjaer says the group is made up of 75,000 members .
Simmelkjaer also acknowledges the club's commitment to diversity and inclusion, citing recent efforts to enhance representation and equity within the organization. 
“We are making an impact every single week of the year in New York City, whether it's through a race or through the programs that we run,” said Simmelkjaer.
As visitors immerse themselves in the exhibit, Kushner hopes they will recognize the profound impact of Black history on the marathon's narrative, echoing her sentiment that "there’s a lot of Black history behind the history of marathons in NYC and the history of marathons worldwide."
The exhibit is open to the public until Feb. 25.


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