Nearly 50 years after Julius Whittier’s last game as a Longhorn, the University announced July 13 he would be memorialized with a statue honoring his legacy as Texas’ first Black football letterman.
“It was long overdue,” said Ivey Suber, Whittier’s friend who played running back for UT from 1973-76. “He’s done so much for the University and supported them for so many years. It was a great day when they decided to recognize him.”
Whittier, who passed away in 2018 from Alzheimer’s disease, joined Texas’ varsity football team in 1970 and was a standout offensive guard for two seasons before moving to tight end his senior year. As Texas’ first Black football player, he was a role model to Black players who joined the team in later years, his sister Mildred Whittier said.
“He paved the way for other Black football players that followed him,” Mildred said. “Players such as Earl Campbell and Roosevelt Leaks — he mentored them, and also encouraged them to attend UT.”
Julius’ trailblazing career is not lost on today’s Texas student-athletes. More than two dozen UT student-athletes released a collective statement on June 12, featuring a list of changes they wanted the University to make to create a more welcoming campus atmosphere for Black students. One of those requests was the renaming of some part of the stadium after Julius.
As part of a number of changes geared toward making the University more inclusive and supportive of Black students, Interim President Jay Hartzell said UT will erect the statue for Julius at the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium and rename Joe Jamail Field for Heisman Trophy winners Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams.
During his time at UT, Julius excelled on the field and in the classroom. He graduated in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before returning to Texas for law school and later becoming a criminal prosecutor in Dallas County.
“He had a fantastic football career as well as education having gone to UT,” Mildred said. “He took advantage of every situation he encountered. He saw the University as a tremendous opportunity to conquer different things.”
However, Julius’ decision to attend Texas wasn’t easy. Growing up in nearby San Antonio, the Whittier family was familiar with rumors surrounding racism at the University. Despite these fears, Julius said he chose to attend UT in order to change the narrative surrounding the school.
“I wanted to see if the myth about UT’s racism was true,” Julius said in an interview during his senior season in 1972. “If it was, I wanted to see what I could do to change it.”
The desire for change that Julius possessed as UT’s first Black letterman parallels the actions of the current student-athletes, Suber said.
“(Julius) told me, ‘You can go to any University in the country, but if you come to the University of Texas, you have an opportunity to change the football program,’” Suber said. “I think what you see today is the work that Julius did back in 1969-1973 and beyond to help the University become what you see today as far as Black athletes go.”
While the statue of Julius represents how far UT has come in 50 years, it also illustrates the fight for racial equality is far from over, Mildred said.
“Change takes time,” Mildred said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, so I am pleased that something has occurred. It doesn’t mean that we are done, but the fact that both parties were able to come together to me was a step in the right direction.”