You are currently viewing 44 facts supporting Duffy, his Spartans and southern Black coaches that laid the tracks — don’t believe Bear Bryant myths

44 facts supporting Duffy, his Spartans and southern Black coaches that laid the tracks — don’t believe Bear Bryant myths

“History writes people out of the story. It’s our job to write them back in.” — David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer


Here are 44 facts – one for every Underground Railroad passenger Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty recruited from the segregated South between 1959 and 1972. The research is from “Raye of Light,” my book with Jimmy Raye. It revealed previously unreported and unknown information on the depth and impact of Daugherty’s Underground Railroad teams and players.

— MYTH: Duffy Daugherty built the Underground Railroad, mining untapped gold, merely to win football games.

1. FACT: Black high school coaches throughout the segregated South built the Underground Railroad. THEY laid the initial tracks. THEY contacted Daugherty, telling him they wanted to send him their star player for the opportunity to defy Jim Crow laws in their home state.

2. FACT: In 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower appointed Michigan State president John Hannah the first chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. Hannah’s stature was added to the football program’s reputation gained from winning the 1954 and 1956 Rose Bowls before vast TV audiences. Black stars from Michigan factory towns were seen leading the Spartans to wins. The Rose Bowl was the sport’s penultimate event until the advent of the Bowl Championship Series and College Football Playoff.

3. FACT: Willie Ray Smith Sr. was most prominent among the high school coaches funneling players to Daugherty. He was a Texas coaching legend at Charlton-Pollard, a Black school in Beaumont, Texas.. Smith asked Daugherty to take his second son, Bubba Smith. This was after both Smith and his older son, Willie Ray Smith Jr., were unhappy with Junior’s experience at Iowa. Bubba turned out to be a two-time All-American defensive end enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame

4. FACT: Smith Sr. and Bubba also told Daugherty to take Gene Washington from nearby Baytown, a Charlton-Pollard rival. Washington was a two-time All-American receiver and NCAA hurdles champion that joined Bubba in the College Football Hall of Fame.

5. FACT: In all, Smith Sr. directed six Charlton-Pollard athletes and three other Houston-area players to MSU. Smith Sr. has Willie Ray Smith Middle School named for him in Beaumont, Tex., near Houston, and the Willie Ray Smith Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year Awards presented to the top high school players in southeast Texas.

6. FACT: Daugherty’s reputation in the South expanded following a late 1950s invitation to speak at an Atlanta clinic. Once Daugherty learned Jim Crow laws denied Black high school coaches entrance, he put on a free clinic for them. He continued the clinics in future years, including inviting them to the East Lansing campus.

7. FACT: William Roberts was a legendary South Carolina high school coach at Westside, a Black school during segregation in Anderson. He told Daugherty about his star, George Webster. As a hybrid linebacker/safety, a rover, Webster was a College Football Hall of Famer and two-time All-American pick.

8. FACT: No other coach had a vast southern network matching Daugherty. His historic 44 players spanned eight southern states – all but Alabama, Maryland and Tennessee. In 1962, The Associated Press reported the Spartans 17 black players was the “largest delegation of Negro players in major college football history.” The Spartans 1965 and 1966 national championship teams had 20 Black players and 11 Black starters. When the Spartans met Notre Dame in the 1966 Game of the Century, the Irish had only one Black player, Alan Page.

9. FACT: College football rosters, even among schools with a long history of integration, typically had six or fewer African-American players on a roster prior to Michigan State’s setting new standards.

10. FACT: Minnesota had five Black players on its 1960 national championship team and USC seven on its 1967 national title roster. But by 1972, USC’s next national championship season, the Trojans followed Daugherty’s lead with 23 Black players. By Notre Dame’s next national title in 1973, the Irish had 13 Black players.

11. FACT: Minnesota, early on, was sometimes labeled an Underground Railroad for Black stars Carl Eller of Winston-Salem, N.C.; Bobby Bell of Shelby, N.C.; and Charlie Sanders of Greensboro, N.C. But the difference from Daugherty’s sophisticated network was Minnesota coach Murray Warmath learned about his prospects through isolated contacts. Illinois landed Bobby Mitchell out of Hot Springs, Ark., in a similar manner. An Arkansas federal judge that attended Illinois informed his college roommate, an Illinois assistant coach. Mitchell was an Illinois starter and Pro Football Hall of Famer. 

12. FACT: In 1959, the Underground Railroad boarded its first passenger, Clifton Roaf of Pine Bluff, Ark. In 2019, the 60th anniversary of the Underground Railroad was wrapped within college football’s 150th anniversary season.

13. FACT: Sherman Lewis of Louisville, Ky., was the Underground Railroad’s first All-American player in 1963. The halfback finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting. Significantly, this was only two years after Syracuse’s Ernie Davis was the first African-American Heisman winner. No MSU player has finished higher in the Heisman voting.

14. FACT: Jimmy Raye of the Fayetteville, N.C., was the South’s first Black quarterback to win a national title as a starter in 1966. The National Football Foundation presented its MacArthur Bowl, symbolic of its national champion, to Michigan State and Notre Dame as co-champions. The MacArthur Bowl is now presented to the winner of the College Football Playoff and prior to the CFP the Bowl Championship Series winner. Raye was the backup to senior All-American Steve Juday in the 1965 national championship season.

15. FACT: Tight end Billy Joe DuPree of West Monroe, La., was the Underground Railroad’s last All-American player as a senior, in 1972. Dupree, who went onto win a Super Bowl title in 11 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, says he has been often asked why he didn’t stay home to play for LSU. “I have to remind them there was this thing called segregation.”

16. FACT: Daugherty’s impact also is felt in coaching. He hired former players Sherman Lewis (1969) and Jimmy Raye (1972) as two of the first Black assistant coaches in college football. They both moved on to the NFL, ultimately serving as offensive coordinators. There were only eight Black NFL assistants when Raye joined the San Francisco 49ers in 1977; he was one of the first black coordinators as the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator in 1983.   

— MYTH: Part II, Duffy Daugherty built the Underground Railroad merely to win football games.

17. FACT: Daugherty’s Underground Railroad was as much about education as football. Of the 44 players recruited from the South, only 10 (23 percent) earned All-Big Ten or All-American honors, while 30 (68 percent) graduated.

18. FACT: As other schools recruited higher percentages of Black football players starting in the 1970s and into the 1980s, the NCAA noted red flags regarding poor national graduation rates. That trend suggested schools exploited Black athletes over education. In 1984, the NCAA determined the national graduation rate was only 34 percent for Black football players – a figure that was half of the Underground Railroad’s track record. The NCAA responded with stricter academic rules and colleges enacted more academic support programs.

19. FACT: Clifton Roaf, the first passenger, considered himself indebted to Michigan State despite a knee injury preventing him from playing a down in a varsity game. He graduated and returned home to Pine Bluff, serving his Arkansas community as a dentist and education advocate for 40-plus years. Bubba Smith is the most famous passenger, but Roaf’s story was more typical of the players. Roaf felt blessed to live out his missed football career through his son, College and Pro Football Hall of Famer Willie Roaf. Roaf’s daughter Angela Roaf is a professor at Northern Arizona University.

20. FACT: Escaping segregation was generational change for Daugherty’s players and their offspring. Gene Washington’s daughter Maya Washington made a documentary on that personal dynamic, “Through the Banks of the Red Cedar.” Jimmy Raye’s son, Jimmy Raye III, is a long-time NFL executive now working with the Detroit Lions. There are many more offspring examples, along with another Daugherty-era documentary, “Men of Sparta” by Bob Apisa. He was a two-time All-American fullback for Daugherty from Hawaii, launching the Polynesian football wave as college football’s first Samoan All-American player.

 — MYTH: Alabama Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant helped Daugherty, telling him about Black stars in the South. This false narrative portrayed Daugherty as a passive bystander and Bryant the leader; both couldn’t be further from the truth.

21. FACT: In reality, Bryant knew nearly nil about Black talent, including within his state. None of the Daugherty’s 44 Underground Railroad players were from Alabama.

22. FACT: In a late 1960s interview of Bryant recorded on film and used in HBO’s “Breaking in the Huddle” Bryant claimed, “We haven’t found so far, many (Black athletes), if any, that qualified academically and athletically.” The statement was accepted in the South despite Black athletes playing throughout the country.

23. FACT: On July 7, 1969, the Alabama Afro-American Association filed a lawsuit against Bryant for failing to recruiting Black athletes. Civil Rights attorney U.W. Clemon, who represented the student group, deposed Bryant. In the HBO film, Clemon says of his 1969 lawsuit: “We did quite a bit of discovery. We talked to a fair amount of Black coaches who told us that Bryant was not serious in the recruitment of Black athletes … we were prepared to show his the contacts with Black coaches were superficial and they were convinced he was not really serious.” He says of a later conversation that Bryant told him “he couldn’t find any” Black athletes.

24. FACT: Six years had passed between the desegregation of the Alabama student body in 1963 and the lawsuit when Alabama Gov. George Wallace backed down from the school house door at Foster Auditorium. Eight years passed until Bryant had a Black player on his varsity roster.

25. FACT: One myth suggests Bryant and Daugherty swapped tips in a “trade” of Joe Namath, a white quarterback from Pennsylvania, and Charlie Thornhill, a Black linebacker from Virginia. The facts stretch the imagination. First, Namath was in Bryant’s 1961 Alabama recruiting class and Thornhill in Daugherty’s 1963 Michigan State recruiting class. Both Bryant (in his book, “Bear,” with John Underwood) and Namath (in an HBO documentary, “Namath”) state that Maryland coach Tom Nugent informed Bryant that Namath had failed his Maryland entrance exam and remained available to Bryant. Neither Bryant nor Namath mentioned Daugherty in the sequence that led him to Tuscaloosa.

26. FACT: Daugherty learned about Thornhill through assistant coach Vince Carillot, who had taken an unsolicited phone call in the football office from Bob McClelland, a sportswriter at the Roanoke (Va.) “Times and World News.” McClelland knew Michigan State’s reputation and encouraged the Spartans to take Thornhill.

27. FACT: Thornhill’s younger brother, Nay Thornhill, verified Carillot’s account of Michigan State recruiting Charlie sans assistance from Bryant. Charlie Thornhill, an All-Big Ten linebacker and three-year starter, died in 2006.

28. FACT: Thornhill and Bryant did meet at a Roanoke football banquet Bryant attended, but Thornhill’s commitment to Michigan State had been reported in the Roanoke newspapers prior to the banquet. Nay Thornhill said his brother’s conversation with Bryant was limited to Bryant telling him Daugherty was a good man. Carillot said he had to push Daugherty to offer Thornhill a scholarship. Daugherty, who didn’t passively accept recruiting tips, feared Thornhill was too short despite his muscular frame.

29. FACT: If Bryant says he couldn’t find qualified Black athletes, the excuse creates a conundrum. After all, Namath was admitted to Alabama after he was denied academic admission to Michigan State and Maryland; Charlie Thornhill was admitted to Michigan State. Thornhill’s sons, Josh and Kaleb, who also played linebacker at Michigan State, say their father never spoke of Bryant as responsible for his scholarship. No Michigan State player has credited Bryant for leading him to the Spartans.

30. FACT: Namath and Michigan State are linked because Namath’s Beaver Falls High teammate, Tom Krzemienski, played for the Spartans. Daugherty had recruited Namath until Michigan State’s admissions office denied his entrance due to grades in the bottom half of his class.

31. FACT: Daugherty was quoted in 1986 that he told Bryant about Namath and that Bryant had told him about black athletes, but this belies overriding facts spoken by Bryant, Namath, Carillot, Nay Thornhill, Thornhill’s sons and Civil Rights attorney U.W. Clemon. Bryant said in a 1969 deposition he didn’t begin looking for Black athletes until 1966. Daugherty’s comments may have been a way to protect his old friend — unintentionally at his own expense. Following Bryant’s death in 1983, his integration record was under scrutiny that older writers avoided during his life.

— MYTH: In 1970, Bear Bryant scheduled USC at Legion Field in Birmingham to demonstrate to his bigoted fans it was time to recruit black athletes. This myth and surrounding revisionist history continues to be randomly regurgitated, extending its life, including recently by “The Athletic” on June 3 as part of its college football 150th anniversary series.

32. FACT: Wilbur Jackson, Bryant’s first recruited Black football player, was already a member of the Alabama program prior to the 1970 USC-Alabama game. However, Jackson had to watch the USC game with the freshmen team since NCAA rules prohibited freshmen eligibility until 1972.

33. FACT: By Wilbur Jackson’s senior high school season in the 1969-70 school year, he attended an integrated high school, Carroll in Ozark, Ala. Alabama high schools were in the process of desegregating campuses in the late 1960s. The change meant previously all-white high schools on Bryant’s recruiting trails now included Black athletes. Jackson had played his junior year at D.A. Smith, the city’s all-Black high school.

34. FACT: Clem Gryska, a long-time Bryant assistant coach and later a luminary at the Paul W. Bryant Museum, said Bryant never scheduled a game to lose it. He rebuffed the myth Bryant scheduled USC in 1970 as a game to lose to shame fans into allowing him to recruit Black athletes. In reality, Alabama played nine integrated opponents out of 12. In addition to USC, Virginia Tech integrated in 1970; Florida, 1970; Tennessee, 1968; Houston, 1965; Mississippi State, 1970; Miami, 1968; Auburn, 1970; and Oklahoma (1956) in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl. 

35. FACT: Bryant once said he may not be the first SEC coach to recruit an African-American athlete, but he wouldn’t be the third. He was tied for sixth with Vanderbilt. They were preceded by Kentucky (1967), Tennessee (1968), in-state rival Auburn (1970), Florida (1970) and even Mississippi State (1970). Alabama joined the Union in 1971.

36. FACT: The USC roster, according to the myth that fostered the false narrative, resembled HBCU Grambling State’s powerful football program. But the Trojans actually had only five Black starters: quarterback Jimmy Jones, fullback Sam Cunningham, tailback Clarence Davis, defensive end Tody Smith and linebacker Charlie Weaver. That’s hardly Grambling. USC in 1970 had only 16 Black players overall in its transition from seven in 1967 to 23 in 1972.

37. FACT: Years after Cunningham ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns in USC’s 42-21 rout of the Crimson Tide, a tale surfaced that Bryant paraded Cunningham around the Alabama locker room, stating he was an example of what a football player looked like. Alabama quarterback Scott Hunter and other players denied it happened. John Papadakis was the loudest voice in the room promoting of the Cunningham tale, but he may have had an ulterior motive. Papadakis and teammate Mike Mouska attempted a screenplay, “The Turning of the Tide.” Cunningham played along with the myth for years until he admitted in print (2003) and film (2013) it never happened.

38. FACT: The more significant player for Bryant to single out for the future was quarterback Jimmy Jones. Condredge Holloway of Huntsville Ala., was a senior in 1970, but he left his home state for Tennessee to become the first Southeastern Conference Black quarterback, in 1972. Holloway said Bryant offered him a scholarship as a defensive back; he told him Alabama’s fans weren’t ready for a Black quarterback.

39. FACT: Bryant apologists claimed Bryant couldn’t find an integrated opponent to come to Alabama until USC coach John McKay, Bryant’s close friend, agreed to the 1970 game. This overlooks Duffy Daugherty, also close friends with Bryant, took his Michigan State team to play at North Carolina in 1964. It was the first time a fully integrated team played in the South at the height of the Civil Rights movement.

40. FACT: ESPN’s Paul Finebaum of the SEC Network is an authority in SEC football and Bryant. He has said, “I don’t buy the argument that Bryant couldn’t have done more. He had more power than any football coach in the South, maybe in the country, and any public declaration from him would have helped enormously. I honestly wish he’d have forced integration a couple of years earlier. It would have enhanced his legacy.” The late David Halberstam, a Pulitzer Prize winner that covered Civil Rights in the South early in his career, wrote this about Bryant dragging his feet in an ESPN article: ” … the Bear was late to the dance, especially because people are always talking about coaches as leaders.”

41. FACT: Los Angeles Times Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Murray had long criticized Bryant. In 1961, Murray confronted Bryant about the coach’s backdoor maneuver to place Alabama in the Rose Bowl in place of the Big Ten representative. Murray’s story revealed Bryant and his former Navy boss, Admiral Tom Hamilton, who was then the commissioner of the what is now called the Pac-12, conspired. Murray wrote in 1961 an all-white team doesn’t deserve to be ranked No. 1, which was the leverage Bryant and Hamilton used.

— MYTH:  Duffy Daugherty’s pipeline to southern talent dried up with desegregation.

42. FACT: Daugherty’s final 1972 recruiting class listed six black players from the South, including future African-American coaching pioneer Tyrone Willingham. Six was more than on entire varsity rosters at schools in the Southeastern, Atlantic Coast and (defunct) Southwest conferences. Willingham considered Raye an Lewis mentors. Tony Dungy, the Pro Football Hall of Fame coach from Jackson, Mich., also considered Raye a mentor. Dungy was the first Black coach to win a Super Bowl.

43. FACT: Alabama’s first integrated roster had only two Black players (Jackson and Eastern Arizona Junior College transfer John Mitchell), so Bryant was hardly draining Daugherty’s talent pool. The same was true at other southern schools. In 1972, the final three SEC teams joining the Union with Black varsity players were Georgia (three), LSU (one) and Mississippi (one). In another irony, Bryant admits in his book he didn’t know about Mitchell, who was from Mobile, Ala., until John McKay made the mistake of mentioning he was recruiting a player from Bryant’s backyard. Bryant subsequently told his assistant coaches to find Mitchell. Bryant is portrayed in the book’s anecdote as a sly fox, but it actually reveals how little he know about black talent in Alabama. 

44. FACT: Plenty of talent remained in the South for Daugherty to pluck following the 1965 and 1966 championship seasons. But with the exception of All-American Billy Joe DuPree, Daugherty and his staff no longer found enough players that turned out to be a George Webster, Bubba Smith, Gene Washington, Charlie Thornhill, Jimmy Raye or other Underground Railroad powerhouse players.

* * *

Among media members and fans about age 45 and older, myths and revisionist are entrenched obscuring Alabama coach Bear Bryant’s history of dragging his feet. They also don’t seem to want to accept facts that show otherwise. Among those under 45, they don’t understand or fully appreciate how recent was segregation.

I accepted many of these myths until research taught me otherwise. With each fact, I began to realize the established tales didn’t add up. I dug deeper. In presenting these facts, I wanted to draw a line between the courage of Duffy Daugherty and the deception of Bear Bryant myths. These facts debunking the myths are in my book with Jimmy Raye, which features the Foreword by Tony Dungy.

“RAYE of LIGHT, Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans and the integration of college football.”

I will put my research up against anyone.

* * *

Think back to a few years after all-white Kentucky lost to Texas Western’s five black starters in the 1966 NCAA basketball final. Imagine that apologists for Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp came up with a plot out of the Alabama/revisionist history playbook that portrays Rupp as using the loss to convince his fan base it was time to recruit black athletes.

Rupp’s first black player was Tom Payne, who accepted a scholarship in 1969 and played in his first games in the 1970-71 season. That’s a year ahead of the Alabama football coach Bear Bryant signing Wilbur Jackson as his first black athlete in 1970 and Jackson playing his first game in the fall of 1971.

Now imagine the Rupp/myth taking hold and overshadowing North Carolina coach Dean Smith, denying him his rightful place in history. Fortunately it didn’t; Smith was rewarded for his winning record on the court, with two national titles, and as progressive leader promoting racial equality. President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

Smith signed Charlie Scott as the first black basketball player in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1966-67. He also was known for challenging segregation as early as 1958 when he was still an assistant coach at North Carolina and could have been fired.

Folk heroes are granted a certain amount of latitude for believable stories. Bryant was a good old boy that benefited from folklore. Rupp, widely considered a racist, didn’t have Bryant’s charm or folklore to obscure his shortcomings.

Smith’s award is well deserved, but Duffy Daugherty also warrants consideration with two national titles and his progressive leadership in college football. Daugherty’s legacy has suffered from the Alabama/Bryant myths and revisionist history. 

* * *

— Why do I write so much debunking the myths and fiction surrounding Bear Bryant and the 1970 USC-Alabam game? The answer is simple: History has failed to properly credit College Football Hall of Fame coach Duffy Daugherty, his Michigan State Underground Railroad players and the southern Black high school coaches that laid the tracks for pioneering fully integrated rosters. The fictional stories involving Bryant and 1970 USC-Alabama game have usurped credit from the 1960s Spartans. The same is true for early pioneers that broke down doors in southern conferences.

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