Memphis, Tennessee | C.1955

Photo Credit: Nicholas Ploucha

Roller skate for your health. Such was the mantra of Skateland in Memphis, where skating could be good for the soul along with the body. However, along with providing an entertaining outlet, roller skating in the United States and Memphis shared a place in the civil rights movement–shining a light on the health of a nation one jam at a time. 

In the early rise of roller-skating in the United States in the 20th Century, skating rinks were segregated or didn’t allow African Americans to skate on their floors at all. In places like Chicago, rinks would host “Soul Nights,” or one night a week where the Black community could come together and express themselves around the track. 

Due to their image as community centers, Skating rinks became sites of important civil rights demonstrations, citing the need to integrate rinks. Ledger Smith, a semi-professional skater, would skate over 685 from Chicago to Washington, D.C. for the March on Washington in 1963. Wearing a sign saying “Freedom,” the efforts of skaters and civil rights protesters would lead to major changes in the United States, including integrated rolling rinks. 

Founded in 1955, Skateland would unfortunately close in 2006 after its roof caught fire. Like the sport of roller skating, its iconic signage lives on–it’s winged boot ready to roll for another day. Surging back into popularity in the past few years, the robustness of rolling rinks across the country is beginning to stabilize, creating new legacies with the Black community of the United States and beyond.

Written By: Seamus McMahon

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