Breaking the Line: The Season in Black College Football That Transformed the Sport and Changed the Course of Civil Rights

S. & S. Aug. 2013. 320p. photogs. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781439189771. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781439189795. SPORTS
Freedman (columnist, New York Times) here looks at the nexus of 20th-century American culture, race, and civil rights through sports as he takes readers back to 1967 when two historically black college football powerhouses, Grambling and Florida A&M (FAMU), played against each other at the Orange Blossom Classic to determine the champion of black college football. He focuses on the coaches—Grambling's Eddie Robinson and FAMU's Jake Gaiter—and their quarterbacks, James Harris and Ken Riley, respectively. Robinson dreamt of Harris breaking the NFL barrier for black quarterbacks, while Gaither wished simply that a black college might play a white one in the Deep South. Ironically, while both coaches spent a lifetime effecting slow but real change by working within the system, they came in for blistering criticism from 1960s activists for not striking a more radical stance. Freedman's subtitle exaggerates: Harris indeed became a pioneer quarterback and executive in the NFL, while Riley transformed into a star pro defensive back, but they were part of a long and slow progression of change.
VERDICT This story is expertly reported and engagingly written. Both sports fans and students of 20th-century American studies will be drawn to it.
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