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Thu, 08.07.1879

A Black first in Rugby, James Peters

James Peters

*James Peters was born on this date in 1879. He was a Black Rugby player.

From Salford, England, his father George Peters, was from the West Indies and worked in a circus until he was killed in a lion's cage. Young Peters played cricket and rugby at school. He was also an outstanding (all-around) athlete winning the 100 yards, mile, long jump, high jump and walking races in 1894.  After leaving school Peters became a printer.  He moved to Bristol in 1898 and in 1900 joined Knowle Rugby Club. Some white members objected to the inclusion of a Black man and resigned.

In 1902 Peters moved to Plymouth, England and worked in the Devonport Dockyards as a carpenter.  He played for Devon team where in 1906 the South African tourists refused to take the field with there team to play the county when they discovered they had a Black man on the team. However, when Devon won the County Championship the public began to campaign for Peters to play for England. On March 17, 1907, Peters played for England against Scotland. It was here that he became the first Black man to play rugby in an international game. The newspapers at the time made no reference to this at all.

Although The Sportsman commented that the "dusky Plymouth man did many good things, especially in passing." The Yorkshire Post praised his performance but pointed out that "his selection is by no means popular on racial grounds." In his next game against France he scored a try in England's 35-8 victory. Ironically he was not picked on racial grounds for the next game against South Africa. Peters returned to the team for the next two games against Scotland and Wales. However, he was dropped for the game against Ireland. In 1910 Peters lost three fingers in a dockyard accident.

He continued to play rugby until 1912 when he was suspended after it was discovered he had been paid by Devon Rugby Club. Peters then became a professional, playing Rugby League games for Barrow and St. Helen's. James Peters died on March 26, 1954.

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