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PHOTO: Jerry LeVias signed with Southern Methodist in 1965. LeVias played through death threats. As a senior in 1968, he scored on Alabama turf, Auburn’s stadium, when SMU defeated Auburn 37-28.
By TOM SHANAHAN
America’s integration battles — big or small — are never an overnight success story. Human nature’s dark side won’t allow it.
For example, the Montgomery Bus Boycott that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. launched after Rose Parks was arrested needed a year to finally achieve success on December 11, 1956. The boost to the Civil Rights movement needed more time until President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965.
It takes many people marching and sacrificing at great expense over a significant time span to spur progress.
But somehow, a myth developed that Alabama coach Bear Bryant and USC fullback Sam Cunningham won over bigoted southern fans in one night when Cunningham overran Bryant’s all-white defense in 1970. The popular misconception worked its way into national folklore with the aid of poorly researched sports writing. The myth claims Bryant wanted to lose the game to gain permission to recruit from segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace — who wasn’t in office from 1967 to 1971 — to recruit Black athletes.
A timeline of southern milestones says college football integration was fait accompli by 1970.
THE SOUTH’S INTEGRATION TIMELINE
Actually, a wave of Black recruits signing with major southern programs in the late 1960s swept up Bryant as one of the last coaches to get on board.
By the 1970 season, Black players were on the rosters of 33 of 37 major southern programs. In other words, Bryant left leadership to unknown coaches without his job security. The last four stragglers were Georgia, Mississippi, LSU and Tulane.
The 33 include all eight schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference, seven of 10 on the Southeastern Conference, all eight in the Southwest Conference and 10 of the major independents.
Listed below are the years major programs in the South desegregated their roster by signing a Black recruit or accepting a walk-on. Note that prior to 1972, the NCAA prohibited freshmen eligibility on the varsity. The years listed below reflect the year the player was recruited as a freshman or arrived as a transfer, although his varsity debut was a year later.
THE SOUTHERN PIONEERS BY 1970
ACC (8 of 8 schools)
1962 — Maryland, Darryl Hill, transfer
1964 — Wake Forest, three recruits
1966 — North Carolina, Ricky Lanier
1966 – Duke, two walk-on players
1967 — NC State, Marcus Martin, walk-on
1969 — South Carolina, Jackie Brown
1970 — Clemson, Marion Reeves
1970 – Virginia, three recruits
SEC (7 of 10 schools)
1966 – Kentucky, two recruits
1967 – Tennessee, Lester McClain
1968 – Florida, two recruits
1969 — Vanderbilt, Taylor Stokes
1969 — Auburn, James Owens
1969 — Mississippi State, Frank Downsing
1970 – Alabama, Wilbur Jackson
1971 — Georgia, four recruits
1971 – LSU, two recruits
1972 — Mississippi, Ben Williams
SWC (8 of 8 schools)
1965 – SMU, Jerry LeVias
1965 – Baylor, John Westbrook, walk-on
1965 – Arkansas, Darrell Brown, walk-on
1968 – Rice, three recruits
1968 – Texas A&M, Hugh McElroy
1968 — Texas Tech, Danny Hardaway
1968 – TCU, Linzy Cole junior college transfer
1969 – Texas, Julius Whitaker
Independents (10 of 11)
1952 — Louisville, Lawrence Simmons
1956 — North Texas State, Abner Haynes
1962 — West Texas State, Pete Pedro
1964 — Houston, Warren McVea
1967 — Florida State, Calvin Patterson
1967 — Miami, Ray Bellamy
1968 — Memphis, Glen Rogers
1969 — Georgia Tech, Edward McAshan
1970 — Southern Mississippi, Willie Heidelberg
1970 — Virginia Tech, John Dobbins
1971 — Tulane, four recruits
THE SOUTHERN BARRIERS KNOCKED DOWN
1960, bowls in segregated states. The decade opened with integrated teams playing in two of the three major bowl games staged in segregated states. In the Orange Bowl on January 1, 1960, Missouri with two Black players faced all-white Georgia. In the Cotton Bowl, Syracuse with All-American halfback Ernie Davis faced all-white Texas.
1961, Colorado threatens boycott: Colorado’s players said the team won’t play in the Orange Bowl against LSU unless their five Black teammates received the same travel, hotel and restaurant accommodations as the rest of the team.
1961, UCLA thwarts Bryant. UCLA’s Black players threatened to boycott the 1962 Rose Bowl if Alabama coach Bear Bryant succeeded at gaining a backdoor entry to the Rose Bowl at the expense of the traditional Big Ten entry.
1962, Maryland signs Hill. Maryland coach Tom Nugent signed Darryl Hill as a transfer from Navy. He sat out the season by NCAA rules and played in 1963 as the ACC’s first Black player.
1962, Bell wins Outland. Minnesota’s Bobby Bell is the South’s first Black player to win the Outland Trophy.
1963, Southern Black HS coaches. Southern Black high school coaches such as Willie Ray Smith in Beaumont, Texas, and William Roberts in Anderson, S.C., began to send Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty players to escape segregation. Smith sent two College football Hall of Famers, his son Bubba Smith and end Gene Washington. Roberts sent George Webster as a College Football Hall of Famer.
1963, Virginia sportswriter. Bob McLelland, a sportswriter and the Roanoke World Telegram, called Michigan State assistant coach Vince Carillot and recommended the Spartans recruit Charlie Thornhill, the first Black player named Back of the Year for the Roanoke region. Later a myth grew that Bear Bryant sent Thornhill to Daugherty in exchange for Daugherty sending Bryant Joe Namath. However, Bryant says Maryland coach Tom Nugent sent Namath to him and there is no claim from Bryant he sent Thornhill to Daughrty.
1964, Wake Forest signs three. Wake Forest coach Bill Tate signed Bob Grant among three Black prospect, marking the ACC’s first three Black players recruited out of high school.
1964, Houston signs McVea. Houston coach Bill Yeoman, a former Michigan State assistant, signed Warren McVea out of San Antonio to desegregate the program.
1964, Michigan State at North Carolina. Michigan State was the first fully integrated football team to play in the segregated South when the Spartans opened the season North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
1964, Jones and Washington score. Future College Football Hall of Famers Clinton Jones and Gene Washington integrated the end zone at North Carolina’s Kenan Stadium with touchdowns. Legendary Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich used that line about Cleveland’s Jim Brown when he scored in Washington against the NFL’s last all-white team. Jones and Washington were both making their varsity debuts as sophomores. Jones scored on a 42-yard run and Washington on an 11-yard reception.
1965, SMU signs LeVias. SMU coach Hayden Fry signed Jerry LeVias of Beaumont, Texas, as the first Black scholarship player in the Southwest Conference.
1965, Indiana at Texas. Indiana was the second integrated Big Ten school to schedule a game in the segregated South during the height of the Civil Rights movement. More schools followed in 1965 and 1966. Part of the misleading Bear Bryant myths was Bryant couldn’t find an opponent to travel to Alabama until he asked USC coach John McKay to bring his Trojans in 1970. USC also played at Texas in 1956, but USC numbered only three Black players. USC wasn’t fully integrated until 1970.
1965, Houston at Tennessee. Houston’s integrated roster played at all-white Tennessee on Oct. 23 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. Houston’s Warren McVea, a sophomore Black halfback said he was treated respectfully by the fans, unlike a year later when Houston played Mississippi on October 22 at a neutral site, Memphis’ Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. McVea endured racial taunts from the fans.
1965, UCLA at Tennessee. UCLA’s integrated team, ranked No. 5, was upset 37-34 before 44,495 fans on December 4 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, home to the Liberty Bowl. UCLA coach Tommy Prothro, a Memphis native, complained about biased officiating deciding the game.
1966, Kentucky signs pioneers. Kentucky coach Charlie Bradshaw signed the first two Black recruits in the Southeastern Conference, Nate Northington and Greg Page.
1966, Two Black captains. Michigan State’s players elected George Webster and Clinton Jones as the team captains. They were college football’s first two Black captains to lead a team without a white teammate sharing the role. In the 1965 and 1966 seasons, Michigan State’s Jimmy Raye was the South’s first Black quarterback to win a national title. He was recruited out of segregated Fayetteville, N.C., aboard coach Duffy Daugherty’s Underground Railroad.
1966, Westbrook at Baylor. Baylor’s John Westbrook, a walk-on, was the first SWC Black player to appear in a game when the Bears played host on September 10 to integrated Syracuse. A week later SMU’s Jerry LeVias, the Southwest Conference’s first Black scholarship recruit, opened its season at home against integrated Illinois.
1966, McVea scores in SEC stadium: Houston junior halfback Warren McVea was the first Black player to score in an SEC stadium when the Cougars beat Kentucky 56-18 at McLean Stadium. McVea scored three touchdowns.
1966, FBI protects LeVias. The FBI, having deemed death threats credible, provided SMU’s Jerry LeVias protection in the Mustangs’ November 26 game at TCU’s Amon Carter Stadium. LeVias said years later his teammates avoided standing next to him on the sidelines.
1966, Grant earns All-ACC. Wake Forest lineman Bob Grant was the ACC’s first Black player to earn all-conference honors as a junior in 1966.
1966, LeVias earns All-SWC. Jerry LeVias, a receiver and return man, was the SWC’s first Black player to earn all-conference honors. He later was named an All-American pick and enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.
1967, Tennessee signs McClain. Tennessee signed two Black recruits in 1967, Albert Davis and Lester McClain. Davis was the more highly touted recruit, but academic issues led to him enrolling at Tennessee State. Tennessee football recruiting coordinator and track coach Chuck Rohe had been pushing the school earlier to sign Black athletes. The school gave him the green light after Kentucky broke the barrier a year earlier.
1967, South’s first Black QB: Wake Forest’s Freddie Summers, a junior college transfer, was the first Black quarterback in the South as the Demon Deacons’ starter as a junior in 1967 and senior in 1968. He also earned first-team all-conference as the first Black QB named to an All-ACC team. Georgia Tech’s Eddie McAShan III has often been referred to as the first Black quarterback in the South, but he didn’t play for the Yellow Jackets until 1970 as a sophomore.
1967, Unwritten quotas ending. USC wins the national title with only seven Black players, including O.J. Simpson. The late 1960s marked the end of college football teams following unwritten quotas of only a half-dozen or so Black players. The Trojans won their 1962 national title with only five Black players. USC didn’t field a fully integrated roster until 1970. Of the 18 Black players, 13 were transfers in the 1969 or 1970 seasons with 12 from the junior college ranks
1968, LeVias scores at Auburn. SMU’s Jerry LeVias was the first Black player to score in a state of Alabama stadium as the Mustangs won 37-28 on September 21 at Hare Stadium. LeVias caught a touchdown pass and two-point conversion. Auburn’s fans booed SMU’s three Black players at they took the field.
1968, McClain scores six TDs. Tennessee’s Lester McClain was the SEC’s first Black player to score a touchdown as a sophomore. He caught six touchdown passes in the 1968 season.
1968, Grant and McVea drafted. Wake Forest’s Bob Grant and Houston’s Warren McVea were the first Black players from a major southern college drafted in the NFL. Grant was a second-round pick of the Baltimore Colts. McVea was a fourth-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs.
1969, Auburn signs Owens. Auburn coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan signed James Owens as its first Black player. Auburn signed Owens a year before Alabama signed Wilbur Jackson as its first Black player. The excuse given for Alabama coach Bear Bryant failing to sign a Black player prior to 1970 was Alabama Gov. George Wallace, an avowed racist, tied his hands. No one stopped Jordan from signing Owens, and he wasn’t fired. Wallace was out of office by Jan. 16, 1967.
1969, Texas and Arkansas sign Black players. Texas and Arkansas were the last two SWC schools with a Black scholarship freshman. Texas coach Darryl Royal signed Julius Whitaker and Arkansas coach Frank Broyles signed Jon Richardson.
1969, Missisippi State signs Downsing. Mississippi State coach Charles Shira joined Auburn as the second Deep South school to sign a Black recruit, Frank Downsing.
1969, SEC’s Captain Hackett. Kentucky’s linebacker Wilbur Hackett was named the SEC’s first Black team captain in any sport as he entered his junior season.
1969, Tennessee routs Alabama. A year before USC played at Legion Field, Tennessee’s integrated roster shocked a bigoted fan base bigoted fan base with a 41-14 victory at Legion Field. Tennessee sophomore linebacker Jackie Walker sparked the rout with an early touchdown interception return.
1969, Colorado presages USC. Colorado beat Alabama 47-33 in the 1969 Liberty Bowl, handing the Crimson Tide its third double-digit loss in and fourth loss overall in the final seven games of the 1969 season. Colorado All-American halfback Bobby Anderson ran for 254 yards and three touchdowns. When USC routed Alabama 41-21 in the 1970 season opener, it was Alabama’s fourth double-digit loss and fifth defeat overall in eight games.
September 12, 1970 — By the opening weekend of the 1970 season, college football integration was fait accompli with 33 of 37 major southern programs integrated. Stanford, ranked No. 8, upset No. 4 Arkansas at War Memorial Stadium in a nationally televised game by ABC. That same night, in a game limited to local radio networks, USC defeated Alabama at Legion Field.
Who did more for college football integration?
Sam Cunningham in one night?
Or a decade of progress from Darryl Hill, Bob Grant, Warren McVea, Jerry LeVias, Bubba Smith, George Webster, Gene Washington, Clinton Jones, Jimmy Raye, Nate Northington, Wilbur Hackett, Lester McClain, Jackie Walker, Frank Downsing, James Owens and many others throughout the 1960s?-
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My books tell the true story of college football integration in the 1960s and address the myths and fiction that allowed a false narrative surrounding the 1970 USC-Alabama game to usurp the credit from the true pioneers. As I said when I spoke at the National Sports Media Association book festival, no two books provide an accurate portrayal more than RAYE OF LIGHT and THE RIGHT THING TO DO.
I’ll put my facts up against anybody, anytime, anywhere.
Click here for my story on the 1962 Rose Bowl and Segregation awarded first place by the Football Writers Association of America. I tell untold stories on Michigan State’s leading role and the true pioneers of college football integration. Click here to read the summary as a first-place story.
Click here to purchase The Right Thing To Do
THE RIGHT THING TO DO
The True Pioneers of College Football Integration in the 1960s
Foreword by Ruffin McNeill
Click here to purchase Raye of Light.
RAYE OF LIGHT
Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the 1ntegration of College Football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans
Foreword by Tony Dungy
Click here to purchase my children’s book, Bubba’s Dad, Duffy and College Football’s Underground Railroad
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My next children’s book coming soon: How Duffy Put Hawaii on the Football Map
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