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.