American college football is rich with Black history


U. of Mich. (1890)
George Jewett (center)
Date: 
Sat, 1892-12-03

College football is in the air and African American involvement at the collegiate level is rich with tradition.

It is a fact that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were for many years the essence of Black college football. African-American football players were not welcome on White campuses until the late 1950 and 1960s in the Deep South although there were a few exceptions to this White only rule. William Henry Lewis and William Tecumseh played and excelled at Amherst and Harvard in the late 1889. Also George Jewett was the starting fullback at the University of Michigan in 1890, (see photo).

The first black college football game took place in North Carolina in 1892, when Biddle College defeated Livingston College. By the turn of the last century several major school rivalries had developed, including Virginia Union-Virginia State, Tuskegee-Talladega, and Fisk-Meharry. In the 1920s Tuskegee had the most dominant black college program. In the 1930s Morgan State was the nation's premier black college football power. Although racism continued to segregate blacks and whites in America throughout the 1940s and 1950s, several African-American players managed to continue breaking racial barriers.

In 1956 Jim Parker of Ohio State became the first Black to win the Outland Trophy, an award recognizing the best lineman in the nation. By 1960 some of the most racist southern universities found themselves on the losing sides of battles with integrated teams. Since 1970 African-Americans have won a majority of the annual Heisman Trophies and several of the most recent Outland Trophies. 2005 is no exception with Vince Young/Texas, Reggie Bush/USC, and others being top Heisman candidates.

Today, most of the country's top programs have predominantly black football teams. In 1979, Willie Jeffries became the first African-American head coach at a predominantly White school at Wichita State. This was followed by Dennis Green, who led Northwestern from 1981 to 1985. More black coaches are being hired for major college positions although there are still qualified coaches who aren’t considered due to the institution’s continuing color barrier. In 2003, when Notre Dame's Tyrone Willingham and Michigan State's Bobby Williams shook hands on a football field in East Lansing, Mich., it was a rare moment: At the time the two of them, old friends, represented one-half of the African-American head coaches among the 117 major college programs in America.

A check of Division I-A coaching staffs reveals little significant change any time soon among major college head coaches. More than 43% of players at that level are African-American, but there are only four black head coaches. This is due to the firing of Williams and the recent hiring of Sylvester Croom to coach at Mississippi State. Croom becomes the first black head football coach in Southeastern Conference (SEC) history. Overall, the D-1 schools checked employed just 12 African-Americans as coordinators, assistant coaches in charge of offensive or defensive units.

Reference:
The Negro in Sports,
By Edwin Bancroft Henderson,
The Associated Publishers Inc (Washington DC),
Copy Right 1939
(Early History including Fritz Pollard)

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