Considered by many to be Staten Island’s “greatest runner of all time”, Art Hall was a trailblazer in more ways than one.
A native of Harlem, he relocated to Staten Island in 1970 where he rewrote the course of local history — burning up the local road racing scene and shattering stereotypes with his incredible running ability, while simultaneously opening doors for African-Americans in a sport that had previously left them shuttered.
In the ‘70s, stereotypes often segregated white and Black runners — rendering Blacks to be “sprinters”, while whites were long considered to be the better distance runners.
Hall was proof-perfect that African-Americans could not only compete in the long distance circuit, but in his case, dominate it.
Despite the obstacles, Hall left behind a long-standing legacy, as both a runner and a pioneer, and a fully blazed trail prior to his passing in 2011.
PAVING THE WAY
“As a Black teenage distance runner in the early ’70s, I was often informed by both family and friends that Blacks can’t run distance,” said former Island runner Bill Meredith. “It was actually described to me as a science-based fact and not a sociological issue.”
The harsh rhetoric did little to deter Hall from not only attempting, but outright succeeding in the long distance ranks.
In addition to four top-five finishes at the New York City Marathon in the ‘70s, Hall also won the prestigious Penn Relays Marathon, and sported personal best times of 34 minutes, 53 seconds for 7-miles and 2:22:07 at the 1978 Boston Marathon.
He’d later capture the 1984 Triple Crown.
“During his time, Art was the greatest runner in the history of Staten Island,” said fellow S.I. road running legend Bill Welsh. “When it came to fast times on the roads, from five miles to the marathon, the records belonged to him.”
“What an inspiration for a young man of color,” noted Sheridan.
Following his own success, Hall founded the North Shore Track Club and also teamed with NYC Marathon co-founder Fred Lebow to establish a community running program for schoolchildren.
While Hall was initially rebuffed by some in the road racing community, he is celebrated on Staten Island today.
After his posthumous induction to the Staten Island Sports Hall of Fame in 2013, the borough rebranded the intersection of Myrtle Avenue and Clove Road as “Art Hall Way”.
This month, the New York Road Runners, of which Hall once served on the board of directors, is honoring Black runners, including Hall, in celebration of Black History Month.
“Art was a trailblazer ahead of his time. He was beloved by the running community, and to this day has had such a tremendous impact on taking the sport to new heights both in Staten Island and across New York City,” said George Hirsch, NYRR Chairman of the Board of Directors.
NYRR will host a virtual 5k event from Feb. 19-28 in observance of Black History Month.
“Through the Virtual NYRR Black History Month 5K, we are encouraging runners to race 3.1 miles anywhere in the world in honor of Black figures who may have been influential or inspiring in their own communities. Runners can participate in the race at their own convenience, also as way to pay tribute to the Black American distance runners who have made an impact in the running community,” said Christine Burke, NYRR Senior Vice President of Strategic Partnerships and Runner Products.
Perhaps Meredith, who grew up idolizing Hall, summed up his remembrance of the local legend best:
“Art is remembered for his running skills, but needs even more to be remembered for the people he helped,” said Meredith. “In those runs it was not only about the running, but he would also ask about your family and if there were any issues he would ask how he could help, no matter who you were.
“Art was truly a gentleman in an un-gentle world,” he concluded.
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