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The South’s 1960s timeline made college football integration a fait accompli by 1970

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A popular myth built around the 1970 USC-Alabama game was once Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant recruited Wilbur Jackson in 1970 as his first Black recruit, the floodgates opened for the rest of the South.

A quaint story, but the facts don’t back up the legend. The floodgates had been opened earlier in the decade until Bryant finally caught up to the flow.

By the time USC arrived at Legion Field in Birmingham for the 1970 season opener against Alabama, 33 of the 37 major southern programs had recruited a Black player – including Alabama. In other words, Bryant left leadership to unknown coaches without his job security.

The 33 includes all eight ACC schools, seven of 10 in the SEC, all eight in the SWC and 10 of 11 schools that were independents in 1970 before later joining conferences.

A timeline of the integration progression moving forward without Bryant’s influence:

1960, Missouri’s Divine Orange Bowl. Missouri’s Mel West and Norris Stevenson weren’t the first Black players to appear in the Orange Bowl, but as the first African-American players at Missouri they led the Tigers to their first bowl game in 10 years.

1961, UCLA’s Rose thorns for 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, but there was no truth to the urban legend.

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, MSU 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.

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, endured merciless racial taunts from fans and players.

1965, UCLA at Tennessee. UCLA’s integrated team, ranked No. 5, was upset 37-34 before 44,495 fans on Dec. 4 at Memphis 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.

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 Sept. 10 to integrated Syracuse. A week later SMU opened its season at home on Sept. 17 against integrated Illinois.

1966, FBI protects LeVias. The FBI, having deemed death threats credible, provided SMU’s Jerry LeVias protection in the Mustangs’ Nov. 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 coach Doug Dickey followed Kentucky’s led by signing 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.

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.

1968, LeVias scores at Auburn. SMU’s Jerry LeVias was the first Black player to score in an SEC stadium as the Mustangs won 37-28 on Sept. 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 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 Auburn from signing Owens, and Wallace was out of office by Jan. 16, 1967.

1969, Texas signs Whitaker. Texas was the last SWC school to sign a Black football player when Darryl Royal signed Julius Whitaker.

1969, Miss. 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 embarrassed Alabama’s bigoted fans 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.


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