Westbrook, John Hill (1947–1983)

By: Richard Pennington

Type: Biography

Published: August 1, 1995

Updated: September 9, 2021

John Hill Westbrook, the first Black student to play varsity football in the Southwest Conference, son of Robert Alexander and Etta Mae (McCracken) Westbrook, Sr., was born in Groesbeck, Texas, on November 13, 1947. As a fourth-generation preacher ordained at the age of fifteen, he grew up in a series of parsonages, including one at Elgin, where he attended Booker T. Washington High School. He ran track, played basketball and football, and was salutatorian of his class. In 1965 Westbrook enrolled at Baylor University and tried out for the freshman football team as a running back. Despite racially motivated harsh treatment from some teammates and coaches, he earned an athletic scholarship. On September 10, 1966, in the fourth quarter of a game against Syracuse, Westbrook became the first Black to play football in the Southwest Conference. One week later Jerry LeVias of Southern Methodist University became the conference's second Black football player; his record-setting career outshone that of Westbrook, who was hampered by a knee injury and two concussions. In August 1968 Westbrook married Paulette White of Houston; the couple had four children. After graduating from Baylor as an English major in May 1969, Westbrook earned a master's degree in English from Southwest Missouri State University. He worked briefly for the staff of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Kansas City, served as a consultant on interracial ministries for the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, and was employed by Florida State University as an academic adviser for athletes. He served as pastor at True Vine Baptist Church in Tyler and at the historic Antioch Baptist Church in Houston. In 1978 he ran a shoestring campaign for lieutenant governor of Texas and received 23 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, but lost the election to William Hobby. He also taught English part-time at Wylie College in Marshall, was a member of the Texas State Urban League Council, and served on the board of directors of the Association of Blacks in Higher Education. Westbrook died in Houston on December 17, 1983, as a result of a blood clot in his lung.

Richard Pennington, Breaking the Ice: The Racial Integration of Southwest Conference Football (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1987). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.


  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Politics and Government
  • Sports and Recreation
  • Sports (Football)

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Richard Pennington, “Westbrook, John Hill,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 24, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/westbrook-john-hill.

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August 1, 1995
September 9, 2021

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