African Americans and College Football, Part 3: Integration

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National integration was one of the groundbreaking events of college football. It did, however, have its consequences.

Let us not pretend that integration in college football came about because of some great epiphany by separatists, segregationists and white supremacists that ran — and still run in many places — college football in historically white institutions. College football has always been an arms race where he who has the most wins.

Let us also not pretend that integration only happened in the south where the old Southwest Conference, the Southeast Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference made their homes. From 1877-1965 Jim Crow segregation was alive and well in the south, and de facto segregation was alive in the north. Oregon had laws that barred blacks from entering the state until 1925 for example.

During this time, college football reflected the views and sentiments of American culture.  Few schools allowed black players to play because few schools allowed blacks to enroll as students. Before World War I only 14 schools were “integrated”. This lack of access forced an overwhelming majority of black athletes to historically black colleges and universities to not only play sports but to earn degrees.

An expansion of the  Morrill act of 1862 in 1890 gave HBCUs federal dollars to fund their programs. As a result, 17 HBCUs were founded and established as a result of the Morrill Act and its expansion.

During this time schools like Florida A&M under Jake Gaither, Grambling State under Eddie Robinson, and Southern University under Ace Mumford became powerhouses after World War II and became some of the best football programs among black colleges and universities. This was done despite institutional inequality brought on by segregation. Grambling State and Southern were not receiving the per-student funds LSU received.

In 1954, Brown vs. The Board of Education happened and brought about desegregation in public schools from elementary to university. This forced every institution of higher learning to enroll any student who desired to enroll without prejudice. Despite this ruling, it wasn’t until 1972 that every school in the south had at least one black player on their roster.

Here are some important moments before and during legislated integration.

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