Even the most casual sports fans celebrate the achievements of professional athletes, among them Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and Joe Louis. Yet before and after these heroes staked a claim for African Americans in professional sports, dozens of college athletes asserted their own civil rights on the amateur playing field, and continue to do so today.
Integrating the Gridiron, the first book devoted to exploring the racial politics of college athletics, examines the history of African Americans on predominantly white college football teams from the nineteenth century through today. Lane Demas compares the acceptance and treatment of black student athletes by presenting compelling stories of those who integrated teams nationwide, and illuminates race relations in a number of regions, including the South, Midwest, West Coast, and Northeast. Focused case studies examine the University of California, Los Angeles in the late 1930s; integrated football in the Midwest and the 1951 Johnny Bright incident; the southern response to black players and the 1955 integration of the Sugar Bowl; and black protest in college football and the 1969 University of Wyoming "Black 14." Each of these issues drew national media attention and transcended the world of sports, revealing how fans—and non-fans—used college football to shape their understanding of the larger civil rights movement.
"This book contributes significantly to the fields of sports history, African American history, U.S. history, and civil rights history and
provides a fresh look at the integration of college athletics from several different regions of the United States. This interregional focus illustrates the complex and multifaceted ways in which integration—primarily in college athletics—occurred in the post-World War II era. It also reveals much about the broader forces that shaped the push to dismantle barriers to political, economic, and social equality."
—Michael E. Lomax, University of Iowa, Department of Health and Sports Studies, Associate Professor
"In using college football as a means for understanding the civil rights movement, this book reveals much about broad issues surrounding integration and the push to break down racial barriers and is a valuable resource for those interested in sports, civil rights, and African American history. Recommended."
"This book will occupy an important—and previously empty—place on the bookshelf of American sports history for many years to come."
—Murray Sperber, American Historical Review
Author / Editor Bio
LANE DEMAS is an assistant professor of history at Central Michigan University, where he teaches African American and sports history.