In 1958 President Dwight Eisenhower was allotted 10 minutes in which to shake hands with a group of 440 visiting newspaper editors. He barely made it through 142, but established a world indoor record of 4.2 seconds per person.
When John Connally became Secretary of the Navy, he discovered that in an hour on the receiving line at a formal reception he could shake hands with about 1,000 people, thus breaking Ike's mark by nearly six-tenths of a second. "Generally you have to do a little visiting with each person," said Connally.
Connally shook the hands of so many people in his 1962 campaign for governor of Texas—180,000, he estimated—that he developed severe calluses on his right hand. After he was shot in the ribs, lung, thigh and wrist while riding in the Kennedy motorcade in Dallas, Connally had to wear a cast over his right hand and wrist and develop a lefthanded shake. "You have to react very quickly and apply counterpressure when handshaking," Connally said. "It's an art and a science."
"My own hand is not very comfortable in the intimate society of other hands and cannot understand the necessity for these constant visitations by strange fists, fingers, knuckles, palms, nails, lifelines, lovelines, cuticle, small bones, short bristles," wrote Russell Baker in The New York Times Magazine. "I understand, of course. It is peculiarly American, as forming queues is peculiarly English and 10 o'clock dining is peculiarly Spanish."
John Unitas: "By the time you learn all the handshakes, the season is over."
In The New Cab Calloway's Hepsters Dictionary, New York, 1944: "Gimme some skin (v)—shake hands."
The onward and upward surge of magnificent and unique handshakes is obviously a further extension of black culture into American life. Big House Gaines, the basketball coach at Winston-Salem State, says, "I really think the slap five began in music rather than sports. I remember the musicians jiving, 'Gimme little skin, man.' In sports the blacks had the power handshake with the six or seven motions and the whites picked it up. I believe the slap five is one of the major contributions of blacks to our society."
Cal Irvin, a former basketball coach at North Carolina A&T, remembers the phrase "my man" from when he was a student at Morgan State and Illinois. " 'My man' meant you did a good job, and then other players would give a slap on the rear," says Irvin. "In the cities this 'my man' came into conversations. Not just among athletes but among intellectuals. If I was having an argument, say, and I made a point that was so good that in my opinion it may have won the argument, say, I would give [another man] some skin. That was an acknowledgment that I made a very good point. Among blacks it was a method of expressing themselves apart from any system. You don't see it in golf, tennis and bowling because, first, the competitors come from a higher level of socioeconomic life. Their expressions tend to be more conventional, conservative. Then, when you make a good shot in those sports, you're all by yourself. Go back to the Mexico City Olympics [in 1968] and the raised fist. Instead of being in protest, it could be used in a positive manner."
In 1968 Dr. Harry Edwards was one of the leaders of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which gave impetus to the black-glove protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the victory stand at the Summer Games. Now a professor of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, Edwards says, "The variations on the handshake are part of African folklore, but there is little to verify-that the various shakes began in Africa, or what they meant. I've read and heard that there were certain shakes to represent fertility in the family, or long life, or bountiful crops, or just plain brotherhood. They also talk of the simple shake as representing peoplehood.
"I became aware of different shakes in the '60s," Edwards continues. "The slap shake was practical for athletes. When running from one place to another, a formal shake would require stopping, but a slap could be done on the run. Maybe the high five is similar. I remember in 1966 at San Jose State there'd be different shakes—the soul shake was what we called one—and somebody would say, 'That's not the latest.' Who decided what was the latest remains a mystery."