The world’s first African-American circus troupe, which began in the Bronx more than 60 years ago, was recently inducted into the Circus Ring of Fame.
On Sunday, January 12, The King Charles Troupe was enshrined into the Circus Hall of Fame, along with four other groups.
For decades the razzle-dazzle unicycle troupe performed all over the world with its basketball high-jinx and comedic antics, exhibiting skills ranging from slam-dunks, dribbling, passing, jumping rope and acrobatics.
“It was an honor to have been inducted,” said Kim Anthony ‘Kip’ Jones, a former member of the troupe, who now acts as its spokesman.
The King Charles Troupe was founded in 1958 as a unicycle club in the south Bronx.
In 1968, it auditioned for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey and was soon signed to a contract with The Greatest Show On Earth.
Nearly 50 years after first appearing with Ringling Bros, members of the troupe were part of the final performance of the circus in 2017.
Jones, who grew up in the south Bronx near Yankee Stadium, never heard of the troupe as a child, nor ever imagined he would be part of it. But, at the age of 15, he was walking with a friend who told him to come to tryouts with him.
He assumed it was for football or basketball, but instead, kids were playing basketball on unicycles. He was shocked and hooked at the same time.
“I kind of fell in love with it,” he said. “I was just blown away to see guys of color doing these amazing things.”
For the next four years he immersed himself in the troupe and the members became his second family.
Jones recalled that getting used to riding the unicycle was a bit of a challenge at first. But once he got that down, the rest was a piece of cake. He was good at jumping off the bike and dunking and doing a trick called walk the wheel, which involves walking on the tire, not the pedals.
“I definitely got some scars on my shins learning in the gym hallway,” Jones said.
According to Jones, his family was blown away by what him and the kids from neighborhood were doing.
Being part of the circus and traveling to places like Florida, California and Texas, was not only fun, but also unheard of for many kids in my neighborhood, he said.
He was active in the troupe through his 30s, until he eventually started a family and moved to Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
But being honored last month with his former troupe mates was a surreal feeling.
“Being part of something that affects the lives of children all around the world that we’ve been able to come in contact with that was special,” he said.
Jones is working with elected officials in an effort to reestablish the program for youngsters.