How Black Roller Skaters Helped Make The Rink A Place For Grownups

By Karen Harris
A still from the HBO documentary 'United Skates,' which tells the story of black roller-skating culture in the '60s and '70s through today. Image courtesy HBO

Black roller skaters of the '60s and '70s developed skating as an activity for adults, and helped turn the roller rink from a kids' space into a place where grownups could socialize. Roller skating -- if you're good at it -- can be every bit as demanding and artistic as figure skating or dance. Black skaters who kept skating into their 20s and beyond, in inner-city skating rinks around the country, helped lay the foundation for the massive fad of roller disco.

Skate nights were a key social activity in many black communities in the '60s and '70s -- and continue to be, despite closures of roller rinks around the country. A recent HBO documentary, United Skates, sheds light on the history of black skate culture and its significance as an American phenomenon of the groovy era.

In the segregated 1960s, most roller-skating rinks were off-limits to black skaters, but that didn’t stop the black community from embracing the pastime. In fact, African American skaters had to stage protests to fight for admittance into roller rinks. Even then, they weren’t always allowed to skate with white skaters and had to participate on black-only nights. From this, however, came the rise of the black skate culture, which thrived throughout the 1970s and even helped give rise to rap and hip-hop of the 1980s.

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