BLACK COLLEGE FOOTBALL IN TEXAS
BLACK COLLEGE FOOTBALL IN TEXAS. Throughout the majority of the twentieth century the system of racial segregation in Texas denied African Americans social, educational and political institutions. As a result, black Texans created their own institutions that operated completely outside the control of white society. One of the most important institutions of the African-American community was football at the state's historically black colleges.
Black college football in Texas allowed African Americans to celebrate their culture and society outside the control of whites. Schools like Prairie View A&M University, Wiley College, Texas College, Bishop College, Samuel Huston College, Paul Quinn College, and Jarvis Christian College competed before thousands of fans every fall. The attraction of fans to black college games grew with the success of these Texas teams on the field. The Southwestern Athletic Conference, the conference created by the Texas black schools in 1920, received recognition as one of the top African-American athletic conferences in the country. Other leading black colleges from around the country annually traveled to Texas to face the state's college teams. Evidence of the success of the black Texas schools is the fact that during the period from 1921 to 1964, the state's black colleges won twelve national championships. Texas College and Texas Southern University both won one championship, while Wiley College and Prairie View A&M won five championships each.
On the field success by the college teams brought about the establishment of star players. Athletes like "Silver Toe" Russ of Sam Houston, who in 1926 the Houston Informer declared a better open field runner than University of Illinois superstar Red Grange, became heroes in the black community. Winning football players served as examples of African-American pride and success. Supported by nicknames like "Corkscrew," "Ox," and "Thunderbolt," the players also symbolized black masculinity within a society of segregation that sought to deny it.
The popularity and success of black college football in Texas culminated with the establishment of special games that became major celebrations of the African-American community. In 1925, the annual State Fair Classic began in conjunction with "Negro Day" at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas. The first game, which took place several years before the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma moved their annual game to Dallas, featured Wiley College and Langston College of Oklahoma. Prairie View A&M replaced Langston in 1927 and served as the host school up through the present day. The State Fair Classic, along with the New Year's Day Prairie View Bowl which began in the late 1920s, provided important venues of cultural expression for the black community in Texas. Thousands of fans annually attended the games, with the accompanying events of parades, concerts, beauty contests, and baby pageants eventually attracting more attention than the actual football games.
When integration came to white college football in Texas during the late 1950s and 1960s, the cultural importance of black college football decreased. The best African-American athletes chose to join integrated college football teams, and the black community shifted its support to schools like the University of Texas or Southern Methodist University as a result. By the 1980s and continuing into the twenty-first century, only Prairie View and Texas Southern still fielded teams and were still members of the formidable Southwestern Athletic Conference. At the same time, the State Fair Classic continued, and along with it and the surviving teams, so continued the history of black college football in Texas.
ESPN College Football Encyclopedia (New York: ESPN Books, 2005). Robert Fink, Black College Football in Texas (Ph.D. Dissertation, Texas Tech University, 2003).