From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Evans, James

James Evans was recognized as the "World's Colored Professional Pocket-Billiards Champion." Very little is known about his life before his fame in New York City as a pool player, and to date, he does not have a complete biography.  He is remembered as one of the absolute best when it came to skills at the pool table.

James Evans was born in 1894, in Kentucky and one source gives his hometown as Louisville [sources: "James Evans loses friend, "Plaindealer, 12/06/1946, p.6; and "Geo. B. Morse: Is James Evans the negro billiard champion, a New Yorker? Mulatto or Browskin?," Inter-State Tattler, 02/01/1929, p.15]. James Evans' skin color and racial identity were made a major part of his career as a pool player. One newspaper referred to him in the following manner, "A good-looker, as fair of complexion as is NAACP's Walter White, he was proudest to be known to the other fellow as a Negro who did not care to pass." -- Source: Plaindealer, 05/16/1947, p.5.

While James Evans did not pass as white, he would sometimes have to pass as some other ethnicity in order to compete with the best players. African Americans were not allowed to play in the pro pool tournaments. So, James Evans would challenge the champions to exhibition games and many times walked away with the purse.

"As Mr. Ewings details, Mr. Evans was allowed to play in a 1961 tournament because he was “light-skinned enough to pass, so long as he signed his ethnicity as Italian.” -- Source: 8 Ball on the Silver Screen: Black Balled webpage, [1] at bottom of the page. 

"Even the renowned James Evans, the proprietor of an all-night poolroom in Harlem, was blocked from the big-time tournaments. In Evans’ case, he was light-skinned enough to pass for Native American, which he occasionally did to compete." -- Source: John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro, "The Jackie Robinson of pool, Cisero Murphy hustled his way to the top," 03/06/2019, webpage. 

Regardless of the segregation rules, James Evans' reputation as a champion was known and respected. In 1932, the local YMCA at West 135st Street in New York City had made arrangements for him to give an exhibition of his trick shots [source: Art Tracy, "Billard fans...," Inter-State Tattler, 01/14/1932, p.16]. Two years later, James Evans defeated the world pool champion, Andrew Ponzi, in an exhibition match at Hutchinson's Billiard Academy, 2493 7th Avenue in New York City [source: "James Evans wins pocket billiard exhibition," New York Age, 10/06/1934, p.5]. James Evans was a tough opponent, he had defeated many who were proclaimed of the best: Arthur Wood, Marcel Camp, Jimmy Caras Hueston, Ralph Greenleaf, Andrew Ponzi, and Willie Mosconi [source: Alvin Moses, "Beating the gun," Plaindealer, 05/16/1947, p.5]. 

Playing pool was only one of James Evans' talents, he was also recognized for his skills as a mathematician (he had completed the 7th grade, according to the 1940 U.S. Census). He was also had good fortune at checkers, cards, and racehorse betting. James Evans also got on well with the women. It was during the early 1950s that James Evans, the pool player, is last mentioned in the newspapers [one source is the last line of "Sports bits" in New York Age, 04/28/1951, p.23].

James Evans is listed in the 1930 and 1940 U.S. Census records as a Negro. He was the manager of a club in Manhattan, and the husband of Mildred Evans who was a dancer at a club. James Evans managed the Golden Cue on 125th Street in Harlem. He and his wife rented their home at W. 129th Street in New York City. James Evans was a WWI veteran. He and his wife are also listed in the 1940 U.S. Census. They were living in the same location. James Evans was the manager of a recreation center (probably the pool hall) and his wife was an entertainer at a theater.

At this time, James Evans' death date and location are not known.

For more information see "James Evans" at the Greenleaf's Pool Room webpage, 02/06/2018; see "James Evans" within the Rack'em Up With Jaffar 'Patch Eye' Basheer at the Steve Booth webpage; and The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Billiards by M. I. Shamos.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Jefferson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Louisville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Outside Kentucky Place Name

References

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: Plaindealer, The (newspaper) (Topeka)
NKAA Source: The Inter-state tattler (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The New York age (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The New illustrated encyclopedia of billiards

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Evans, James,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed November 18, 2019, https://nkaa.uky.edu/nkaa/items/show/300003919.

Last modified: 2019-11-04 18:45:16