Racism, Sports, and the National Anthem: Only 50 Years Ago in Texas, High School Football Teams Were Segregated

Courtesy of the J. L. Patton Collection, Dallas Historical Society.

Until 50 years ago, black high-schoolers in Texas played football in their own league. Observers wonder if the empathy produced when sports were first integrated needs revisiting, given protests over the national anthem at games today.

When Thurman Robins thinks of Thanksgiving he thinks of 1954, his ninth-grade year at the all-black Jack Yates High School in Houston, and their annual football game against Phillis Wheatley High School. As was often the case in Texas’s blacks-only high school football league, he saw something that took his breath away.

This time it was Ivory Jones winning the game for Yates with a last-minute field goal – an incident almost unheard of back then, when kickers kicked straight-on with their toes and often missed.

Decades later, November in Texas means the start of high school football playoffs. And this year it means something else as well: the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of high school football in the state.

Though the all-black leagues had celebrated traditions, with integration came the opportunity for black and white athletes to get to know each other in a setting that demanded teamwork and mutual understanding. Today the sport often still reaps those benefits. But it arguably took a hit in the furor over the national anthem protests this season in the National Football League and other sports – at all levels – around the country. Now, some observers are wondering whether a key purpose of integration has been lost, and needs to be rediscovered.

“College and high school sports, when they integrated, it was the first opportunity to sit down and talk to somebody you didn’t normally associate with and find out things beyond the stereotypes,” says Michael Hurd, director of the Texas Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture at Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas.

When Thurman Robins thinks of Thanksgiving he thinks of 1954, his ninth-grade year at the all-black Jack Yates High School in Houston, and their annual football game against Phillis Wheatley High School. As was often the case in Texas’s blacks-only high school football league, he saw something that took his breath away.

This time it was Ivory Jones winning the game for Yates with a last-minute field goal – an incident almost unheard of back then, when kickers kicked straight-on with their toes and often missed.

Decades later, November in Texas means the start of high school football playoffs. And this year it means something else as well: the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of high school football in the state.

Though the all-black leagues had celebrated traditions, with integration came the opportunity for black and white athletes to get to know each other in a setting that demanded teamwork and mutual understanding. Today the sport often still reaps those benefits. But it arguably took a hit in the furor over the national anthem protests this season in the National Football League and other sports – at all levels – around the country. Now, some observers are wondering whether a key purpose of integration has been lost, and needs to be rediscovered.

“College and high school sports, when they integrated, it was the first opportunity to sit down and talk to somebody you didn’t normally associate with and find out things beyond the stereotypes,” says Michael Hurd, director of the Texas Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture at Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas.

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SOURCE: Henry Gass 
Christian Science Monitor