Every town in Texas has their high school football stories.
In fact, every generation in every town in Texas probably has enough gridiron tales to fill several volumes.
So it’s not the easiest thing in the world to bring to light great stories that haven’t already been told. But author Robert D. Jacobus feels like he landed on just the right subject that combines a poignant era of high school and college football with untold and uncommonly gripping narratives.
Jacobus’ new book “Black Man in the Huddle: Stories from the Integration of Texas Football” follows African American football players’ journeys from before Brown v. Board of Education in the early 1950s through forced integration in the late 1960s-early 1970s.
Like anyone who has written extensively on the history of football, Jacobus found plenty of sources who were willing to regale him with fond memories of the game. He interviewed more than 200 former players and coaches while gathering material for his latest book.
“To be honest, nobody has asked them about their football days in a long time probably,” Jacobus said. “Everybody loves talking about that stuff.”
Jacobus will get another chance to talk about high school and college football and his book on Saturday when he joins a group of nine authors at the 3rd Annual Texas Sports Hall of Fame Book Festival.
The sports literature event will be held at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and admission is free. The lineup includes Dave Campbell (“Dave Campbell’s Favorite Texas College Football Stories”), Marjorie Herrera Lewis (“When the Men Were Gone”), Michael Barr (“Cloyce Box: 6’4” and Bulletproof”), Dr. Charles Breithaupt (“Rocket Man: The Story of D.W. Rutledge and the Judson High School Football Dynasty”), Ken McAllister (“Cattle to Courts: A History of Tennis in Texas”), Jackie McBroom (“Historic Texas Gyms”), and Mark S. McDonald and Bill DeOre (Beyond the Big Shootout).
Jacobus presented his book “Houston Cougars in the 1960s” at the first Texas Sports Hall of Fame Book Festival in 2017. In the process of writing his new one, the author found himself learning about players and teams he hadn’t heard of that inspired him to dive deeper.
“I think the high schools might not have been easier to research, but may have been more compelling because a lot of that hasn’t ever really been told,” Jacobus said.
“Black Man in the Huddle” begins with a fascinating anecdote about Ben Kelly becoming the first black student athlete to play at a Texas college. San Angelo College coach Max Bumgardner had watched Kelly play at the all-black Blackshear High School in San Angelo, but he couldn’t recruit the running back because San Angelo College, like every other school of its kind in Texas in 1951 when Kelly graduated from high school, was still segregated.
Two years later, after he played a semester at University of Illinois and then served in the army, Kelly showed up at Bumgardner’s office, wanting to play football for the Rams. Because the school was still segregated, Bumgardner sent Kelly to school president Rex Johnston’s office to plead his case. Johnston, in turn, sent Kelly to the registrar’s office and, just like that, Kelly integrated San Angelo College.
Jacobus found dozens of similar stories. While they weren’t always as simple as that, the author noticed a common thread of white and black teammates backing each other up as teammates more often than not.
“Most of their problems came from outside the team,” Jacobus said. “I know for example at Lamar University, Tony Guillory said when he integrated them in ’62 the first time he went in the shower all his white teammates walked out. For the most part, things like that were pretty rare.”
Jacobus’ book includes stories of African American players with Central Texas ties, including Baylor’s John Westbrook becoming the first black player to play in a Southwest Conference game in 1966, and Joseph Searles helping to integrate Killeen High School in 1956. Searles went on to become the first African American to be on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
One football story led to another as Jacobus continued his research for his latest book. The material proved so voluminous that he said he had to cut 40,000 words telling stories of integration in the early days of pro football in Texas.
That’s ok, though, plenty of fodder for his next book.