Three young African American chess players from the New York-area are officially considered masters of the game, a designation that has been bestowed upon only 2% of the United States Chess Federation’s 47,000 members.
Justus Williams, Joshua Colas and James Black Jr. each achieved master status before the age of 13! According to The New York Times, they are among only 13 masters below the age of 14.
“’Masters don’t happen every day, and African-American masters who are 12 never happen,’ said Maurice Ashley, 45, the only African-American to earn the top title of grandmaster. ‘To have three young players do what they have done is something of an amazing curiosity. You normally wouldn’t get something like that in any city of any race.’
The chess federation, the game’s governing body, does not keep records on the ethnicity of its members. But a Web site called the Chess Drum — which chronicles the achievements of black chess players and is run by Daaim Shabazz, an associate professor of business at Florida A&M University — lists 85 African-American masters. Shabazz said many of them no longer compete regularly.
Ashley, who became a master at age 20 and a grandmaster 14 years later, said the rarity was not surprising. ‘Chess just isn’t that big in the African-American community,’ he said.”