MSU and UNC enlightened South 50 years ago at Chapel Hill
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MSU and UNC enlightened South 50 years ago at Chapel Hill

“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 the milestone game played on Sept. 26, 1964 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill proved Twain's wisdom.

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 a fully integrated football team played on Dixie turf at the height of the Civil Rights movement. Before Daugherty's landmark Underground Railroad teams, schools limited black players on their roster to a handful -- fewer than a half-dozen.

Minnesota's 1960 national championship team included only five black players, Notre Dame's 1966 national title team one and USC's 1967 national championship roster seven. Michigan State's 1965 and 1966 national title teams included 20 black players with 11 starters.

All-white southern teams sometimes traveled north in the 1950s and 1960s, but they didn't schedule home games against integrated opponents. Most notably, the powerhouse Alabama teams coached by Bear Bryant remained in the South. His 1966 team played eight games within Alabama's borders -- four at Birmingham's Legion Field, three on campus at Denny Stadium (now Bryant-Denny Stadium) and one in Mobile at Ladd Peebles Stadium. The two road games were trips to Mississippi in in Jackson (185 miles) and Tennessee in Knoxville (314 miles). The Sugar Bowl against Nebraska was played in New Orleans (293 miles).

Bryant's apologists, when defending his poor record on the integration of college football, have claimed northern schools refused to travel to Alabama. But the 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.

It's important to note that the 1964 Michigan State-North Carolina ground-breaker preceded the myth-draped USC-Alabama game played on Sept. 12, 1970 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. Years later a series of myths grew out of USC facing Alabama's all-white roster in the deep South. One was Bryant previusly couldn't convince northern schools to play in Alabama until USC coach John McKay agreed.

McKay and Bryant were close friends, but so were Daugherty and Bryant. The larger myth was Bryant used the game to open the eyes of his white fans -- to convince them it was time to follow the U.S. Constitution and allow black athletes to wear Alabama's colors. The student body was integrated in 1963. The state's high schools were desegregated in 1969.

Bryant's former assistant coaches and players, though, have disputed the myths. They say Bryant didn't schedule the game to lose. They deny Bryant paraded USC fullback Sam Cunningham through the Alabama locker room as an example of college football player looked like. Cunningham enjoyed the the legend for many yhears before he admitted it didn't happen.

As for northern teams journeying south, the closest examples to Michigan State's 1964 trip to Chapel Hill was USC playing two games in Texas -- at the University of Texas in Austin in 1956 and at Southern Methodist in Dallas in 1962. But 1956 was before southerners pushed back against the Civil Rights movement, before violence that led to bombings of black churches and homes in the early 1960s. The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala. -- not far from Legion Field -- happened in 1963 shortly after the March on Washington and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Birmingham came to be called "Bombingham." KKK members used their explosives knowledge gained as World War II and Korean War vets.

Michigan State's Underground Railroad players that Daugherty recruited from the segregated South initially viewed the North Carolina game with trepidation. 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 Fame rover/linebacker from Anderson, S.C., and Summers, a two-year starting cornerback 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 on a day without incident on and off the field.

“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 and College Football Hall of Famer 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, echoed 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 to 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.”

We must rely on such oral histories to understand this under-appreciated moment in college football. 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 segregation. This was two years before Charlie Scott was North Carolina's first black basketball player for coach Dean Smith.

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 between the Chapel Hill campus from the Deep South. The University of North Carolina's flagship campus was and still is considered a genteel place and the state's foremost forward-thinking campus.

“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 Atlantic Coast Conference color line as its first black football player (Maryland didn't join the Big Ten until 2014).

Hill played Maryland’s early-season contest at South Carolina 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, another school located in South Carolina, 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 and Michigan State All-American forward Johnny Green endured verbal abuse from fans and physical abuse from opponents when they 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 in 1964 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; 16th Street Church bombing that killed four little girls.
  • 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.”

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Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom has also written for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Voice of San Diego, Chargers.com, Rivals.com, and Gameday Central. He has won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003 and USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter its President’s Award in 2000.

Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the integration of college football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans

By Tom Shanahan; Foreword by Tony Dungy; August Publications

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