26 Oct

Hiram McBeth: Little-Known Black Razorback Pioneer

Razorback B-Team

While Darrell Brown and Jon Richardson are more well known, did you know Pine Bluff’s Hiram McBeth was the first African-American to play in a varsity-level football game? He did so in the red-white game in the spring of 1969, a few months before Little Rock’s Jon Richardson arrived on campus as a heralded freshman (and the first scholarship black Razorback in football) from what was then Mann High School.

Here’s a snippet on McBeth (in the right paragraph) from Orville Henry’s column in the April 27, 1969 Arkansas Gazette:

Hiram McBeth

And here’s a follow up from the September 9, 1969 Arkansas Democrat, by which time the Richardson had made it to campus:

Jon Richardson

Notice there is a third African-American mentioned: Jesse Kearney. According to McBeth, Jesse Kearney enrolled as a freshman in September 1969. Like McBeth, he too walked on. He never played varsity ball. Both McBeth and Kearney are now practicing attorneys, McBeth in Dallas and Kearney in Pine Bluff.

Finally, below is a nice retrospect by the late Rick Joslin which ran in the old Pine Bluff News. If you’re interested in seeing more of it, just call/text me at 501.554.5039 or info@heritageofsports.com.

Black Razorbacks


Read more about race relations, state heritage and sports  in my new book: African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks & Other Forgotten Stories.

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.


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.

11 Oct

How the story of Arkansas’ first black football player inspired Nolan Richardson’s biography

Part of Darrell Brown’s Legacy

The feel-good story of October’s second weekend of college football belonged to Darrell Brown, the first black football player at the University of Arkansas. Forty-five years after he left the program under depressing conditions – bruised, battered, injured and ignored – Brown was celebrated at a  halftime ceremony of the Auburn-Arkansas game. In front of 70,000 cheering people, he accepted the authentic varsity jersey he’d always craved and an honorary plaque. After such a ceremony, and an attendant Yahoo Sports article, Brown’s story of pain, suffering, bitterness and, ultimately, reconciliation (his three children attended UA) is known to the world.

Throughout it all, a range of emotions swept through Brown.

On Sunday, I spoke to Brown about his reaction to the ceremony. He added that the UA press is talking to him about writing his biography. If it goes through, it appears he’ll co-author the book with athlete-turned-writer Celia Anderson, who led Little Rock Hall High School to a basketball state championship in 1997 before signing with the Lady Razorbacks. In college, she played on a Final Four team and a WNIT championship team. Later, she played pro ball in Greece before embarking on a career geared toward literacy advocacy. Anderson currently teaches at NorthWest Arkansas Community College while pursuing a PhD in Urban Higher Education from Jackson State University.

I was originally introduced to Darrell Brown in 2010 at Arkansas’ Multi-Ethnic Hall of Fame induction in Little Rock by Rus Bradburd.

Bradburd attended that ceremony primarily to speak about his experiences with Nolan Richardson, the subject of his recently published biography. Over the course of interviewing Richardson for that book, however, Bradburd was told about Brown’s extraordinary perseverance.

The story roused Bradburd from one of his worst episodes of writer’s block.

“I was sitting there working on that Nolan Richardson book for about a year,” with about a year and a half until deadline, Bradburd said. “I was surrounded by this big pile of stuff -notes, research, recordings, newspaper articles and I just thought, ‘I can’t do this.’ It just seemed too hard … So I was overwhelmed by the research and then [former Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge] Wendell Griffin said ‘You need to learn what happened to Darrell Brown. Here’s his phone number. Call Darrell Brown and call Davis Hargis, his teammate.'”

“When I heard Darrell Brown’s story, I thought ‘I can do this. If Darrell Brown went through what he did for a year and half, then surely I can write a book for a year and a half.’ It was really the inspiration for finishing this book. I thought there’s no way I can give up now.”