Wake Forest honors two Trailblazers, correcting its share of college football history distorted by a popular culture narrative

Wake Forest honors two Trailblazers, correcting its share of college football history distorted by a popular culture narrative

PHOTO: Wake Forest true 1960s pioneer Bob Tate with his coach, Bill Tate.

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By TOM SHANAHAN

Wake Forest takes its turn this weekend setting straight the college football integration story. It should be a simple narrative by a timeline, but it’s been muddled over the years by myths and fiction surrounding the 1970 USC-Alabama game.

Only a miniscule number of fans understand the role Wake Forest’s Bob Grant and Kenneth “Butch” Henry played desegregating college football. Grant will tell you the same is true about their school’s coach, Bill Tate; president, Harold Tribble; and athletic director, Gene Hooks.

In 1964, when North Carolina was still a Jim Crow state, Wake Forest was the first major school in a southern conference to sign Black football recruits out of high school. But how many collegiate football fans, including Wake Forest partisans, know the story?

Sadly, not enough.

Grant and Henry are the first recipients of Wake Forest’s “Trailblazer Award” established in 2021. The festivities honoring the true 1960s pioneers include recognition at Wake Forest’s crucial ACC game against N.C. State Saturday at Truist Field in Winston-Salem.

To make history, Grant and Henry endured cheap shots against all-white opponents, heard racial insults from all-white crowds and felt cold shoulders on their own campus from classmates and some professors opposed to progress.

“It took the courage of three white men to offer us scholarships in 1964,” Grant said. “Bill Tate, Harold Tribble and Gene Hooks put themselves in danger. The KKK was around in those days in North Carolina.”

Southern white terrorists bombed and set a fire Black homes and churches and intimidated white citizens supporting Civil Rights.

“You have to remember 1964 was only a year after the KKK killed four little girls in Birmingham when they bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church,” Grant said. “It was only a year after (Civil Rights leader) Medgar Evers was assassinated in Mississippi. It was only a couple months after (James) Chaney, (Andrew) Goodman and (Michael) Schwerner were murdered in Mississippi. It was a dangerous time in 1964.”

Goodman and Schwerner were white college students from New York and Chaney an African-American from Meridian, Mississippi, who worked together to register voters in the Freedom Summer of 1964.

Although it’s accurate that former ACC member Maryland broke the conference color line in 1963 with Darryl Hill, the Terrapins’ running back was a transfer from two schools, Xavier in Cincinnati and Navy in Annapolis, who played only one season. He was an isolated example at Maryland.

Grant and Henry were three-year lettermen (1965-67) in an era prior to the NCAA permitting freshmen eligibility. Wake Forest’s pioneering 1964 class included William Smith as a third Black recruit out of high school, although he left the school. He served as a medic in Vietnam on his way to becoming a doctor.

In 1965, Tate added running back Jimmy Johnson and center Howard Stanback; in 1966, lineman Bill Overton; and in 1967, quarterback Freddie Summers. Also in 1967, Wake Forest basketball coach Jack McCloskey signed Gilbert McGregor.

Summers was the first Black starting quarterback at a major southern school as a junior college transfer in 1967, although his place in history has been erroneously bestowed upon Georgia Tech’s Eddie McAshon, in 1970.

Grant’s career also established milestones that went unrecognized and don’t appear next to his name in biographical Google searches.

In 1966 as a junior, Grant was the first Black player at a major southern conference to earn all-league honors. He was a first-team All-ACC defensive lineman.

In 1968, he was the first Black player from a major southern conference to be drafted by the NFL. He was a second-round pick by the Baltimore Colts. Grant played in two Super Bowls, the SBIII loss to the New York Jets and the SBV win over the Dallas Cowboys.

How can such obvious stories of true 1960s pioneers breaking barriers get pushed into the shadows?

The short answer is a perfect storm of the 1960s mainstream media avoiding writing about race and leaving behind a vacuum of unrecorded Black milestones. Miami professor Donald Spivey writes about Black Historiography in sports — how history is written — noting that many milestones of Black athletes weren’t properly recorded.

The vacuum was duplicitously filled decades later by myths and fiction surrounding the 1970 USC-Alabama game at Legion Field in Birmingham. The false narrative was crafted in the late 1980s, began to spread nationally in the 1990s and was entrenched in books and films in the 21st century. The cottage industry profited at the expense of the true 1960s pioneers. The Alabama media, fully aware Bryant never challenged or spoke out against segregation, was emboldened to cast him as a crusader.

Much of the manufactured storyline regurgitated without verifying the facts was based on a movie script John Papadakis, a1970 USC linebacker, tried to sell. The movie wasn’t made, but that didn’t prevent writers and editors in the media from sloppily repeating the rote narrative. The dialogue Papadakis attributes to Bryant — some of it laughable and objected to by his former players as uncharacteristic of their coach — has Bryant taking USC Black fullback Sam Cunningham into his locker room to show his players what “a football player looks like.”

Cunninghan in later years began to admit in interviews the locker room scene never happened, explaining he got caught up in the tale. Cunningham died on Sept. 7, 2021 at age 71.

Grant, who founded the Retired NFL Players Congress in 2013, said he and former NFL player Reggie Berry had a conversation one day with Cunningham about college football integration. Berry, who played at Long Beach State and for the San Diego Chargers, explained Wake Forest and other schools integrated the South long before 1970.

Grant recalled, “Reggie told Sam, ‘You know, you guys didn’t integrate the South.”

“Yes, yes, we did,” Cunningham replied.

Berry proceeded to tell the story of Grant and other true 1960s pioneers. Cunningham expressed surprise.

“I didn’t know that,” he said.

“Reggie told Sam, ‘You know, you guys didn’t integrate the South.’

“Yes, yes, we did,” Cunningham replied.

Berry proceeded to tell the story of Grant and other true 1960s pioneers.

“I didn’t know that,” he said.

— Wake Forest Trailblazer Award recipient Bob Grant.

Once the locker-room story was exposed as fiction, plans to produce the movie based on Papadakis’ script fell apart. The locker-room scene is the linchpin to the entire myth, with the perceived humor propelling it falsely into college football lore.

However, as example of how myths are pesky at hanging around, ESPN’s E:60 chose to perpetuate the rote narrative by simply omitting the locker room scene. On the 50th anniversary of the game, Jeremy Schaap narrated a story about the game that simply omitted the key chapter of the story.

Cunningham may have grown to resent being drawn into the myth. In 2016, Cunningham told the Los Angeles Times: “It’s already a historic story without adding sauce to it, you know what I mean? Everybody wants to make it more than what it is.”

However, the USC-Alabama fairytale successfully served its purpose.

Bryant was absolved of having dragged his feet on integration into the 1970s in addition to gaining his misleading identity as a crusader.

USC’s role was aggrandized. Trojans coach John McKay was among the many coaches that followed an unwritten quota of only a half-dozen or so Black players. USC had only five Black starters on its 1962 national championship team and seven on its 1967 national title roster despite the population and diversity of Los Angeles.

In McKay’s book, “McKay: A Coach’s Story,” he defended complaints from the Black community USC was no different than any other school in the nation.

However, by the 1960s, Michigan State had fielded college football’s first fully integrated rosters with Black athletes. In 1962, the Associated Press reported the Spartans’ 17 Black athletes was the most in major college football history. USC and Michigan State met head-to-head in 1963, 1964 and 1967.

The result of the mythology has been Sam Cunningham is unjustly better known for one 1970 game over the true 1960s pioneers at Wake Forest, other southern schools and Michigan State. Daugherty and his program established a road map for college football into the 1970s.

An example of how entrenched the Cunningham myth is entrenched in college football lore was repeated in the New York Times obituary on Cunningham, Sept. 9, 2021, the story stated USC was the first integrated team to play in Alabama. The Times posted a correction on Sept. 13, 2021, stating other integrated teams had previously played in Alabama.

However, the correction failed to note in 1969 Southeastern Conference rival Tennessee’s integrated roster routed Alabama’s all-white team at Legion Field, 41-14. Michigan State’s 1964 team played at all-white North Carolina, in 1964.

“People are written out of history,” Grant said. “It’s not an accident.”

To tell the proper story of college football integration is an example of Critical Race Theory, a subject that has been otherwise politicized.

BOB GRANT”S OTHER SCHOOL

Ironically, Grant originally committed to play among another group of overlooked true 1960s pioneers at Michigan State. Daugherty stopped at Georgetown High in segregated Jacksonville, N.C., on his annual sweep through the South.

Michigan State was well known in the South for leading college football integration dating to the 1950s with its Black stars. They were seen on TV leading the Spartans to wins in the 1954 and 1956 Rose Bowls. In the 1954 season, All-American back Leroy Bolden, an African-American from Flint, was a team co-captain with Don Kauth. In 1962, the Associated Press reported Michigan State’s 17 Black athletes was the most in major college football history.

Grant turned out to be an easy sell.

“Duffy told me about all the great players he had returning and how they were going to win a national title,” Grant recalled.

Daugherty’s 1963 recruiting class included four players bound for the College Football Hall of Fame: Bubba Smith, Beaumont, Texas; George Webster, Anderson, S.C.; Gene Washington, La Porte, Texas; and Clinton Jones, Cleveland, Ohio. They led the Spartans to 1965 and 1966 national titles.

Michigan State’s 1964 recruiting class also included Jimmy Raye, a quarterback at Fayetteville’s Black high school, E.E. Smith. Raye was destined to become the South’s first Black quarterback to win a national title, but in 1964 he was merely a high school rival to Grant. E.E. Smith had defeated Georgetown twice in North Carolina’s Black high school athletic association state playoffs.

“Bob and I have been great friends a long time,” said Raye, whom Wake Forest invited to attend the weekend ceremonies. “This is a great honor for Bob and long overdue. He competed hard and had an outstanding career. I’m proud to be a part of the event.”

Grant explained he signed a scholarship offer with Daugherty before the Spartans’ coach left campus, but his future changed when legendary Georgetown coach Gideon T. Johnson called him into his office. Johnson had been contacted by Tate, who offered Grant a Wake Forest scholarship. Johnson tried to impress upon Grant the role in history he would play clearing a path for future Black athletes in the South.

The Demon Deacons, though, were a bottom-level ACC football program. To this day, the school has won only two ACC titles, in 1970 and 2006, although Wake Forest (8-1, 5-0 ACC Atlantic) is ranked No. 12 as it faces No. 16 N.C. State (7-2, 4-1 ACC Atlantic).

“I told him, ‘Why would I want to go to a school that gets beat up all the time,” Grant recalled. “I’m going to win a national title at Michigan State.”

Johnson, though, was a giant in the community in an era when high school coaches played a large role in their athletes’ college destination. Grant accepted his coach’s advice to set out on a pioneering trail. Other southern schools began to follow — long before Alabama coach Bear Bryant recruited Wilbur Jackson as his first Black player, in 1970.

By 1966, Duke was the third ACC school with Black football players. N.C. State and North Carolina were on board by 1967.

Elsewhere, SMU was the first Southwest Conference (a forerunner to the Big 12) school to sign a Black athlete in 1965 with Jerry LeVias. In 1966, Baylor’s John Westbrook played his first varsity game as a walk-on at the SWC school.

In 1966, Kentucky knocked down the Southeastern Conference’s barrier with two Black recruits, Nate Northington and Greg Page, and two more in 1967, Wilbur Hackett and Houston Hogg. Tennessee followed Kentucky in 1967 with Lester McClain, the first Black player to score a touchdown in the SEC as a sophomore in 1968.

Similar to Grant, McClain’s place in history — he scored six touchdowns in 1968 — doesn’t show up in Google searches about his career. The same is true of Hackett as the first Black team captain in any SEC sport as a junior 1969.

By 1970, college football integration was fait accompli with 28 of 31 major southern schools integrated. The last three holdouts were Georgia, LSU and Mississippi in 1972. The timeline of progress was far ahead of the 1970 USC-Alabama game. It’s a fact that Papadakis and other USC myth crafters in Los Angeles didn’t understand and a loophole Alabama media was happy to exploit to obfuscate Bryant’s poor record on segregation.

All of the southern schools were following the momentum of Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights movement and the example Michigan State set before large TV audiences, particularly in the Jan. 1, 1966 Rose Bowl (1965 season) and the 1966 Game of the Century against Notre Dame on Nov. 19, 1966 at Spartan Stadium.

A record TV audience of 33 million tuned in to watch the Game of the Century, a quasi-national championship that was a seminal moment in college football history. Daugherty’s 1966 Spartans featured 20 Black players, 11 Black starters, two Black team captains, College Football Hall of Famers George Webster and Clint Jones, and Raye’s historic role as South’s first Black quarterback to a win a national title.

Notre Dame’s varsity and freshmen rosters included only one Black player, Alan Page.

But even if Grant had attended Michigan State, the 1970 USC-Alabama fiction also unjustly overshadows the contributions of Daugherty, his players and the southern Black high school coaches that steered their athletes to Michigan State.

Grant, 75, continues to be involved in the game by leading the Retired NFL Players Congress. The organization serves retired players and their families

“To me it’s about helping other people,” Grant said. “Color, gender, religion and politics shouldn’t matter. The division taking place in this country today is crying shame. It’s a crying shame. Once again, there is a reason for it. It’s not happening accidentally.”

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Schools that have acted to set the record straight on college football integration.

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The stories of the true 1960s pioneers of college football integration can never be told enough times to correct the entrenched 1970 USC-Alabama myths and fiction. I have researched the subject since 2012 while writing “Raye of Light, Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans and the integration of college football,” with the foreword by Tony Dungy. I will put my research up against anybody, anytime, anywhere.

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I invite you to follow me on Twitter @shanny4055

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