Henry Sams Jr: The First Black Award-Winning Archer in Pennsylvania


Screen Shot 2020-02-21 at 10.30.26 AMPhiladelphia Tribune, July 26, 1955

For Henry A. Sams, target and field archery are unsurpassed as outdoor sports. The 37 year-old bowman, who lives at 5840 Ludlow Street, is a member of the Philadelphia Archery Club and New Jersey’s Aldebarans. As the first Negro in both organizations, Sams had little difficulty.

Avid Bowman. Philadelphia Tribune August 30, 1952 pg 10

Henry Sams Jr. was the half-brother of Rachel. The only census document I have for Henry is from the 1930s.


After searching through an archive of black historical newspapers, I found about fifty articles on Henry, most of them pertaining to his athletic career. From track, basketball, soccer, and archery, Henry was a local sports star whom the community nicknamed, “The Giant.” A fitting name for a person who stands at 6 ft 7in.

Screen Shot 2020-02-21 at 10.34.42 AM“Archery Club Crown Won By Henry Sams,” Philadelphia Tribune, Nov 8, 1955

From the newspaper archives, it seemed that archery was his passion. In November 1955, Sams won the Archery Club Crown. He was the first Black American to join the state’s Archery Club and to win the division’s title. Sams was also an Eastern Regional and State Class B champion. Earlier that year on July 23rd, Henry Sams came close to winning the International Archery Tournament. In the article, the writer noted that Sams first developed a liking for archery in 1949.

Personal life. Henry married twice. From his first marriage (to an unknown woman), they had a daughter, Cathy Sams. He later remarried to Edna Sams and they remained together until his death eighteen months later in 1975. He lived the last four years of his life in Delaware County as a teacher in the Vocational-Technical Department of Chester High School. He attended Drexel University, Penn State, Chicago State College, and was enrolled at Temple University. He was a member of the Act 101 Advisory Council of Cheyney State College, the American Vocational Association, the Penn State Education Association, Chester Upland Education Association, the Photographic Society of America, Boy Scouts of America, and he also a former captain within the National Guard. In his obituary,  it stated that Henry survived by his wife, a daughter, three sisters, Rachel Ellerbee, Gladys Stevenson, and Hilda Wilson, and two brothers, Vincent Flowers and John Patience. Rachel Ellerbee? Rachel was married.


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