Throwback Thursday: Race remains an issue 50 years after UT Athletics’ integration

Sara Reinsch

Two years after a 1961 student referendum called for integration of the University’s athletic programs, the UT System Board of Regents removed all of its race-based student restrictions on Nov. 9, 1963. Seven days later, the University’s Athletic Council opened its doors to black athletes for the first time.

In 50 years, UT has made policy-based strides toward racial equality in athletics. But the hype surrounding the recent hiring of head football coach Charlie Strong — who is UT’s first black men’s head coach — indicates that many racial barriers are still unbroken.

Darrell K Royal, UT’s former athletic director and head football coach, announced the Athletic Council’s decision to open all University sports to black athletes on Nov. 16, 1963.

“The Athletic Council met with the administration this morning and decided that any Negro student who meets academic and athletic requirements is eligible to try out for any sport as of this moment,” Royal said in the Texan article. “We will recruit those Negroes that fit into our program.”

The Texan reported that, even though black males were allowed to try out for sports, their odds of making a team other than track were extremely low, as many sports had already started their seasons and were competitive.

“The first boy who plays for Texas will really have to be something special to do anything for his race,” an unnamed UT coach said in the article. “He must be a fine athlete as well as have the ability to take jibes and ridicule.”

UT was the first school in the Southwest Conference to declare athletic integration, and, according to the article, the announcement ended a “gentlemen’s agreement that supposedly existed between Southwest Conference coaches.” As a result, in the weeks that followed, all but two schools in the conference integrated their athletic programs.

Two black athletes began working out with the freshman track team a few weeks after the integration, according to a Dec. 4, 1963 article in the Texan. Former head track coach Jack Patterson said that because they joined the squad late, he would likely allow the boys more opportunity to “show off their wares.”

“Anybody with any potential at all we’ll encourage,” Patterson said. “I’ll have to trim the squad to 40 eventually, and that’s too many to work with really. If there’s any prejudice shown at all, it will be in favor of these boys.”

It took Royal seven years to find the right “fit” for his team, and, in 1970, Julius Whittier became UT’s first black football player. Though today’s teams are diversified, it wasn’t until 1993 that the University hired its first black head coach, former women’s track and field head coach Beverly Kearney. Two decades later, Strong’s hire made headlines when he became UT’s first men’s black head coach.

UT athletes are far more diverse than they were in 1963, but, 50 years later, the low number of black head coaches at the University and the media attention surrounding Strong’s employment demonstrate that race is still relevant in UT Athletics.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, this story has been corrected to say that Charlie Strong was hired two decades after Beverly Kearney.