Julius Whittier, Texas’ pioneering African-American player, dies at 68

CJ Vogel

After 68 years, the illustrious life of Julius Whittier, a Texas scholar and trailblazer, came to an end Tuesday morning, Texas Athletics said in a press release.

Upon graduating from Highlands High School in 1969, Whittier joined the Texas football team, where he became the first African-American in program history and one of the first in the country to play under scholarship.

“Obviously our thoughts and prayers go out to his family,” head football coach Tom Herman said after practice Thursday. “Special guy who will always have a special place in Texas football history.”

Whittier was a member of Texas football from 1970–1972. The offensive tackle helped bring back the 1970 National Championship and three consecutive Southwest Conference Championships.

In an excerpt from “What It Means to Be A Longhorn” by Bill Little, Whittier explained what it meant to play for head coach Darrell K Royal and the Texas
football program.

“To be a starting athlete on one of the best teams in the country — there’s just no comparison. Football was my vehicle to become a Longhorn. Being a Longhorn is not simply about playing sports, it’s about being part of The University life. There’s far more to that in my life than just being a football player. I enjoyed pleasing my coach, and I enjoyed playing football. But the bigger thing is that Coach Royal turned me on to a quality University in my own state. When that group of men declared our independence in 1836, it was done with guys — whatever their thoughts on race — who had big ideas about the real world and the future. I’m proud of that.”

In 1976, Whittier graduated from the LBJ School of Public Affairs and moved to Dallas for a career as a senior prosecutor for the Dallas County District Attorney’s office.

Whittier retired in 2012 due to ongoing complications with Alzheimer’s Disease, which is believed to be obtained from his playing days.

His sister, Mildred, filed a lawsuit in 2014 against the NCAA for damages suffered by athletes who did not go on to play in the National Football League and suffered from brain damage or injury.

The main objective of Mildred’s lawsuit with the NCAA was to set up a $50 million settlement for athletes who participated from 1960–2014 and suffered from brain injuries. Although Mildred did not reach her initial goal, the settlement resulted in the NCAA setting aside $75 million for the testing and research of brain trauma suffered while playing football.

Whittier’s groundbreaking career warranted him a spot in the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 2013 and in the San Antonio Independent School District Hall of Fame.