Sport and the Color Line: Black Athletes and Race Relations in Twentieth-Century America

By Patrick B. Miller; David K. Wiggins | Go to book overview

II

THE ORDEAL OF DESEGREGATION

WRITING IN OCTOBER, 1936, Roy Wilkins-activist and editor of the Crisis-took the occasion of a football game between the University of North Carolina and NYU to comment in expansive terms about race relations in America. The contest occurred in a northern venue during that fateful autumn, and significantly, it matched a team from the once-Confederate South against a contingent that included an African-American athlete. This was, in fact, one of the first intersectional, interracial match-ups in the history of intercollegiate competition.

Wilkins had discussed the game only briefly in his own journal-the organ of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People-but his vigorous account appearing in the pages of the New York Amsterdam News gave full voice to the integrationist ideals of the mass of black Americans of his era: This was a crossing of the color line that deserved to be headline news as well as a model for the future. He had heard "no boos" from Carolina fans, Wilkins reported, and "none of the familiar cries of 'Kill the Negro.' So far the University of North Carolina is still standing and none of the young men representing it on the gridiron appears to be any worse off for having spent an afternoon competing against a Negro player. It is a fairly safe prediction," Wilkins continued, "that no white North Carolinian's daughter will marry a Negro as a result of Saturday's play, much to the chagrin of the peddlers of the bugaboo of social equality."

Wilkins then cast his praise for the actions of UNC in a broader context, condemning those institutions that refused to advance even one small step on the issue of race. The theory behind the "shenanigans" generally called "Gentlemen's Agreements" was "that the prestige of a Southern school suffers in some way if its sons compete in games with Negroes," he asserted. "Not only that, but the South and the white race generally were supposed to suffer something or other. Sociology, anthropology, and political science were dragged into the argument, the whole thing topped off by a rehash of the war of 1860-1865." When "the North Carolinians merely said they would not object and would

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