The Bunion Derby was an eighty-four day, 3,400-mile race, all on foot from Los Angeles to New York City. The 199 participants included five African American, a Jamaican-born Canadian, and perhaps as many as fifteen Latinos, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders, representing about ten percent of the competitors, the rest were white.
The men traveled Route 66 to Chicago and then other roads leading to Madison Square Garden. The winner at the finish line would receive $25,000.
Because of the era of the race, it was quite risky for black participants. The men had to travel through the segregated South which had deep-rooted Jim Crow laws. Most whites at that time believed blacks had no business participating in anything alongside whites.
By the time derby reached eastern New Mexico, only ninety-six of the original 199 starters remained in the race. Three of the five African American starters including Eddie Gardner of Seattle, Sammy Robinson of Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Toby Joseph Cotton, Jr., of Los Angeles–and Afro-Canadian Phillip Granville, of Hamilton, Ontario. Although the men had overcame difficult times on the road, none compared to the hellish times of Texas. Route 66 took them straight to Texas where the Ku Klux Klan dominated the state legislature and the city governments of Dallas, Forth Worth and El Paso.
The men were forced to sleep in a “colored only” tent and received death threats and taunted with racial slurs. The white mob gathered and some rode behind the black runners, daring them to pass a white man.
As the race continued across the southern states, so did the racism and brutal attacks. The black communities that knew what was taking place band together to help the men along the way. They raised money to provide them with a place to sleep and food while passing through. The black men also had support and protection of the white runners who had bonded with them like brothers over the difficult times on Route 66.