“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” ---Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad/Roughing It
We’re unable to know a half-century later if Michigan State’s Duffy Daugherty and North Carolina’s Jim Hickey appreciated Mark Twain’s works, including “Innocents Abroad/Roughing It.”
But this season marks the 50th anniversary of their milestone game that was played on Sept. 26, 1964 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill. The two late coaches scheduled the meeting as the back end of a home-and-home series. Michigan State’s road trip marked the first time an integrated football team played on Dixie turf at the height of the Civil Rights movement.
In those days, all-white schools often traveled north in the 1950s and 1960s. However, Alabama coach Bear Bryant's segregated teams remained in the South to play only all-white opponents. Bryant's apologists on his lack of a role in the integration of college football have used as an excuse the claim northern schools refused to travel to Alabama.
But 1964 Michigan State-North Carolina game refutes that notion. The Spartans and other Big Ten teams also had traveled to Miami, although the Orange Bowl wasn't Dixie turf.
The closest examples to Michigan State-North Carolina were USC at Texas in 1956 and at Southern Methodist in 1962. But 1956 was before southerners pushed back on the Civil Rights movement with violence that led to bombings in 1963. The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., was shortly after the March on Washington and Martin Luther King's speech on Aug. 28, 1963. The city came to be called "Bombingham" with KKK members using the explosives knowledge as World War II and Korean War vets.
The North Carolina game met a return with trepidation for the Spartans’ black players that were recruited from the segregated South aboard Michigan State’s Underground Railroad. They had chilling memories of Jim Crow laws and second-class citizenship. Two Spartans from South Carolina, Jim Summers and the late George Webster, told their parents to stay home.
“I didn’t want my parents to be subjected to the kind of humiliation that they might encounter,” said Summers, adding Webster felt the same. “We knew the only blacks in the stadium would be the ones working.”
But Webster, a College Football Hall of Famer from Anderson, S.C., and Summers, a two-year starter on the Spartans’ 1965 and 1966 national championship teams from Orangeburg, S.C., and their black and white teammates alike learned some parts of the South accepted change sooner than others.
North Carolina won 21-15 in an upset on a day without incident on and off the field. As Mark Twain observed, travel opens eyes, hearts and minds.
“The only thing I remember from that game was they had a big halfback that went on to play in the NFL, and he ran all over us,” said Summers, referring to Ken Willard, who played 10 NFL seasons. “I don’t remember their players doing anything dirty or saying anything racial.”
Two other Underground Railroad players on their way to the College Football Hall of Fame were the late Bubba Smith of Beaumont, Tx., and Gene Washington of La Porte, Tx.
Clinton Jones was a two-time All-American halfback from Cleveland, Ohio, on the Spartans’ 1965 and 1966 national championship teams along with Smith, Webster, Washington and Summers. Washington, a retired 3M Company executive in Minneapolis, and Jones, a practicing chiropractor in Los Angeles, echo Summers’ memory.
Michigan State’s Jimmy Raye, who grew up 70 miles down the road from Chapel Hill in segregated Fayetteville, N.C., was a freshman in 1964 destined to become the the South's first black quarterback to win a national title as the Spartans’ starter in 1966.
“I remember the team coming back, and we were together in the Brody Complex,” said Raye, who didn’t travel due NCAA freshman ineligibility rules of the era. “They were disappointed with the loss, but I don’t remember anyone talking about incidents.”
Willard’s theory on the uneventful day could be footnoted with Twain’s travel observations. He cited the Tar Heels’ trips to Michigan State in 1962 and 1963 on the front end of the series as well as a one-way deal to play at integrated Ohio State in 1962.
“I guess playing those games took the novelty out of it,” Willard said. “We heard a lot about how big Bubba Smith was, but I don’t remember comments from coaches, players, students or fans about black players. That’s my truthful recollection.”
Other southern schools had scheduled a one-way deal to play in the North, but Daugherty was the first to bring his team to Dixie.
For the 50th anniversary of this under-appreciated game, we must rely on such oral histories. The 1964 media hadn’t progressed much from pre-Civil Rights attitudes of avoiding the subject of race.
The Raleigh News and Observer and now defunct Raleigh Times limited their stories to game-day results. The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News were both on strike, but Lansing State Journal sports editor Bob Hoerner traveled to Chapel Hill. His brief mention was merely of the first Big Ten team to play in Chapel Hill without citing integration.
The lack of incidents may have contributed to the media avoiding the subject, but a chance to spread enlightenment was missed. Willard had grown up in segregated Virginia, and he understood the difference from the Deep South.
“It was a different mentality down there,” he said. “Chapel Hill was very progressive … and disliked for that reason. We were considered too liberal.”
For a perspective on Dixie in 1964, only a year earlier Maryland’s Darryl Hill broke the color line in the Atlantic Coast Conference as its first black football player.
Maryland’s early-season South Carolina contest was played under a Hill death threat. On the way to the locker room at halftime, a fan dumped a drink on him. At both South Carolina and later at Clemson, Hill endured racial taunts from fans; opponents double- and triple-teamed him with hard tackles.
Also at Clemson, Hill’s mother was not permitted to enter the stadium until Clemson president Robert Edwards intervened.
In the same time period and within the confines of a basketball arena, Cincinnati All-American guard Oscar Robertson endured verbal abuse from fans and physical abuse from opponents, with the referees looking the other way, when he broke racial ground playing in the Dixie Classic in 1959 at North Carolina State’s famed Reynolds Coliseum.
These ugly incidents weren’t revealed until years later, but Summers and Webster didn’t need a scouting report from Hill or Robertson when they told their parents to stay home. Here is a quick time-line of the 1964 climate from bloody Civil Rights events:
- 1960, the Greensboro, N.C., lunch-counter sit-ins staged by four North Carolina A&T students at a downtown Woolworth’s.
- 1963, Bull Conner unleashed his Birmingham, Ala., policemen with clubs, fire hoses and dogs on non-violent protesters – many of them children.
- 1964, three Freedom Summer workers (two white, one black) who registered voters in Mississippi disappeared in June and were found dead in August.
Other schools began to follow the Daugherty-Hickey blueprint. The Tar Heels played host to Michigan in 1965 and traveled to Michigan in 1966. Indiana was the next Big Ten team to play in the South with games at Texas in 1965 and 1966.
Willard’s theory made sense to Raye, who looked to Michigan State for an opportunity to play big-time college football when ACC schools, including home-state schools North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest, declined to recruit him due to race.
“ACC schools had rules against recruiting black athletes, ” Raye noted, “but North Carolina had played against black athletes, and it helped the transition.”