21 Oct

When Razorbacks First Competed Against African-American Football Players

1965 Cotton Bowl

The all-white Razorbacks finished their glorious 1964 with a landmark Cotton Bowl showdown.

For the most part, integration of big-time college sports in the South happened in phases from the 1950s through early 1970s. In 1965, for instance, SMU’s Jerry Levias became the first African-American football player in the Southwest Conference. Two years later, Kentucky’s Nat Northington became the first in the SEC.

With Arkansas, like with many other programs, there are multiple pioneers. Little Rock’s Jon Richardson, the first scholarship black Razorback, came aboard in the fall of 1969. In the spring of 1969, though, Pine Bluff’s Hiram McBeth had become the first black Razorback to play in a varsity-level Arkansas football game when he played in the red-white game.

Then there was Darrell Brown, the walk-on from Horatio who played on the freshman team in the fall of 1965 and spring of 1966. He quit after suffering multiple injuries and never made varsity.  This was right in the heyday of legendary Arkansas coach Frank Broyles, and Razorbacks were a force to be reckoned with. Broyles, who coached the team from 1958 until 1976, became an all-time Arkansas legend in 1964.

After finishing his previous three Southwest Conference Championship winning seasons 9-2, 8-3 and 8-3, Broyles led Arkansas to an 11-0 record in 1964, outscoring opponents by 231 to 64. He had an especially strong defense which pitched multiple shoutouts in the second half of the season. Exhibit A: Razorback linebacker Ronnie Caveness, who was selected to the 1964 College Football All-America Team, and was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Jimmy Johnson, the future Super Bowl-winning head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, also played for that team. So did Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who got pretty emotional this past summer when he learned he was going to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Now if his team could overcome their 20/1 odds to win the Super Bowl, I’m sure he’ll get way more emotional.

It’s interesting to note that the Razorbacks’ legendary 22-game undefeated run that included this championship-winning season started with a victory over Texas Tech, a game that was played the day after President John F. Kennedy died in 1963. That was the only SWC game played that day, and the Hogs tried as best as they could to get with business as usual, future Super Bowl-winning coach Barry Switzer told me. That win started an incredible run extending throughout the 1965 regular season when Darrell Brown scrimmaged against the varsity as part of the freshman team.

The high point of the run, of course, was Arkansas’ 10-7 win over Nebraska in the January, 1965 Cotton Bowl. That victory cemented Arkansas as the national champions, according to the two major organizations.  It was also the first time Razorback football players took the field against an integrated football team.

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While Razorback football players hadn’t officially competed against black football players before 1965, decades before the program had helped a group of African-American Fayetteville natives named the “Black Razorbacks.” I tell that long-forgotten story in my new book: African-American Athletes in Arkansas.

03 Mar

Talking Fayetteville’s Lost Black Razorbacks with the Local NPR

Kyle Kellams

I recently discussed Fayetteville’s forgotten “Black Razorbacks” of the Great Depression era on Ozarks at Large, a daily news and culture show through KUAF National Public Radio 91.3 FM. I always enjoy talking with the show’s host Kyle Kellams, who I’d gander has one of the most inquisitive, roving minds in the tri-state area.

Check out our 11-minuteish interview here:

 

And here’s a preview of the story itself:

Razorback linebacker Brooks Ellis had lived in Fayetteville his whole life, but had never heard of the Black Razorbacks. Not that he’s to blame. Hardly anyone, after all, remembers the group of young African-American men who donned old Razorback and Fayetteville High jerseys during the Great Depression and played football across Fayetteville and the region. These northwest Arkansas locals represented their region against other all-black teams from Russellville to Joplin, forming a kind of regional “Negro Leagues of football” all but forgotten by Arkansans today.

They also upend common modern conceptions of athletic segregation in the Old South. Not only did this team scrimmage against white players from a then-segregated Fayetteville High School, but they did so on the grounds of the segregated University of Arkansas itself — under the watch and tutelage of white Razorback football coaches. Moreover, the white players often visited Fayetteville’s all-black neighborhood to play there. “That’s awesome to hear about,” Ellis said as he sat in the Razorbacks locker room in August 2015. His alma mater, Fayetteville High School, stood less than a mile away.

Ellis noted Fayetteville High School had in 1954 become the first high school in Arkansas to publicly announce its desegregation — “I take a little pride in that” — but the fact African Americans were regularly playing against the all-white Bulldogs decades before that was news to him. He added, “It would be cool to learn more about, obviously.”

Let us begin, then.

Much of the Black Razorbacks’ story comes to us from accounts of their games buried in the archives of the Northwest Arkansas Times, a newspaper run by civic leader Roberta Fulbright — the mother of future U.S. senator U.S. senator J. William Fulbright. The most detailed known retrospective comes from Arthur Friedman, a white Fayetteville resident who attended Fayetteville High School in the early 1930s.

He often watched the Black Razorbacks’ scrimmages and games, and considered those times “the highlight of my growing-up years and school,” he wrote in a 1985 Northwest Arkansas Times article. Indeed he considered the African-American players, many around his age, as friends.


To read the rest of this story, and other long-forgotten stories about Arkansas’ sports heritage, reserve a copy of my forthcoming book African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks and Other Forgotten Stories.