Alabama honors university’s first Black football players

Apr 16, 2022, 1:45 AM | Updated: 1:51 pm
John Mitchell speaks at the John Mitchell and Wilbur Jackson Commemorative Plaque Unveiling before ...

John Mitchell speaks at the John Mitchell and Wilbur Jackson Commemorative Plaque Unveiling before Alabama's A-Day NCAA college football scrimmage, Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

(AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

              Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (9) throws before Alabama's A-Day NCAA college football scrimmage, Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
            
              Alabama head coach Nick Saban looks on during warmups before Alabama's A-Day NCAA college football scrimmage, Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
            
              Wilbur Jackson, left and John Mitchell pull the drapes at the John Mitchell and Wilbur Jackson Commemorative Plaque Unveiling before Alabama's A-Day NCAA college football scrimmage, Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Also at left is Alabama president star Bell and Alabama head coach Nick Saban, while at right is Christine Taylor, vice president and associate provost for diversity, equity and inclusion. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
            
              Wilbur Jackson, left, and John Mitchell listen to speakers at the John Mitchell and Wilbur Jackson Commemorative Plaque Unveiling before Alabama's A-Day NCAA college football scrimmage, Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The pair broke the color barrier at Alabama. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)
            
              John Mitchell speaks at the John Mitchell and Wilbur Jackson Commemorative Plaque Unveiling before Alabama's A-Day NCAA college football scrimmage, Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — John Mitchell and Wilbur Jackson already had their place in Alabama football history. Now, the Crimson Tide’s first Black players also share a prominent spot outside Bryant-Denny stadium.

The university unveiled a plaque honoring Jackson and Mitchell Saturday in a ceremony before the current team’s end-of-spring A-Day game, more than 50 years after they broke the color barrier.

“It was a moment I will never forget,” said Mitchell, who had become emotional when he spoke at the ceremony. “It was very touching. You grow up a little Black kid from south Alabama and these are things you never dream of. “

The two 70-year-olds were also honored at halftime.

The introverted Jackson became the Tide’s first Black scholarship football player when he signed on Dec. 13, 1969. In 1971, defensive end Mitchell, a transfer from Eastern Arizona Junior College, became the first to play in a game.

The longtime Pittsburgh Steelers assistant and current assistant head coach wound up starting all 24 games over two seasons and becoming a two-time All-Southeastern Conference performer.

Jackson became a star running back for Alabama, the only school to offer him a scholarship. He was a first-round draft pick in 1974 by the San Francisco 49ers, where he played five seasons before spending three more with the then-Washington Redskins.

“If somebody had told me when I was 18 or 19 years old, that 50 years later we would be here today being recognized for integration, I would never have believed it,” Jackson said. “And yet here we are.”

Both are now members of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

Tide coach Nick Saban showed his team a video of Jackson and Mitchell last year, the 50th anniversary of Mitchell’s first season on the field.

“These guys were people who did something that nobody else was really willing to do that created so many opportunities and changed lives of so many people and changed the mind-set of a lot of other people and was a big step in desegregating the South,” Saban said. “And I think Coach Bryant should be commended for what he did to make that happen.”

Jackson and Mitchell each said Bryant told them if they ever had a problem to come see him first.

Both said they never had to make a trip to Bryant’s office for that reason.

“A lot of people don’t understand the situation back then,” Mitchell said in a phone interview with AP earlier in the week. “Coach Bryant handled the situation as well as any coach could handle it. And I’ve said this before, if it had been anybody but Coach Bryant, the situation probably could have been different.

“He didn’t treat me any different, or Wilbur, than any other players on the team.”

Mitchell got his coaching start as Bryant’s defensive line coach from 1973-76 shortly after wrapping up his playing career. He still uses lessons learned under Bryant and his Alabama staff and saved the notes from those staff meetings.

Back then, he roomed with white teammate Bobby Stanford, who remains a close friend and served in his wedding. Stanford made the trip to Tuscaloosa for the ceremony from Albany, Georgia.

Earlier in the week, he recounted how Mitchell came to Bryant’s attention in the first place. USC coach John McKay had mentioned to Bryant that the Mobile native was planning to come play for him. Bryant excused himself and called back to Tuscaloosa, ordering an assistant to track Mitchell down.

“Worst mistake John McKay ever made was telling Coach Bryant about him,” Stanford said in a phone interview.

“Coach Bryant had been trying to sign Black ballplayers for years, and the power structure in the state of Alabama wouldn’t have it,” Stanford said. “Even as strong as coach Bryant was, it wasn’t easy. He tried.”

And ultimately, he succeeded. So did Mitchell and Jackson.

___

More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Diana Taurasi takes part in drills during a minicamp for the U.S women's national basketball team, ...
Associated Press

Diana Taurasi has sights set on playing at Paris Olympics

Diana Taurasi said immediately after winning her fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo that she might try for a record sixth in Paris. It’s still on her mind 17 months out of the 2024 Paris Olympics. “It’s something that it’s on my radar,” Taurasi told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday after the […]
2 days ago
This photo provided by Bud Light shows a scene from Bud Light 2023 Super Bowl NFL football spot. A ...
Associated Press

Here’s why this year’s Super Bowl beer ads go beyond Bud

NEW YORK (AP) — A bevy of booze brands will be in the Super Bowl ad lineup this year, now that Anheuser-Busch has ended its exclusive advertising sponsorship after more than 30 years. In addition to celebrities hawking Budweiser and Michelob Ultra, viewers will see some famous folks touting the qualities of Heineken and Coors, […]
2 days ago
Ukraine's Ivan Kovbasnyuk speeds down the course during the super G portion of an alpine ski, men's...
Associated Press

Ukrainian skier pushes to keep Russians out of the Olympics

COURCHEVEL, France (AP) — Ukrainian skier Ivan Kovbasnyuk, a two-time Olympian, can’t train at home in the Carpathian Mountains because war in the country has damaged the power grid so severely that there’s not enough energy to make the chairlifts operate. That’s just one of the reasons why he thinks athletes from Russia and Belarus […]
2 days ago
FILE - Labor Secretary Marty Walsh speaks during a briefing at the White House in Washington, May 1...
Associated Press

AP sources: Walsh to leave Biden Cabinet for NHL union

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh is expected to leave the Biden administration to run the National Hockey League Players’ Association, according to two people familiar with his plans. The hockey players’ union has been searching for a new executive director to take over for Don Fehr, who had been in charge for […]
2 days ago
FILE - Buffalo Bills co-owner Kim Pegula stands on the field  before an NFL football game, in Arlin...
Associated Press

Jessica Pegula reveals her mother Kim Pegula’s health crisis

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Pro tennis player Jessica Pegula has revealed that her mother, Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres co-owner and president Kim Pegula, went into cardiac arrest in June and is still recovering while dealing with significant language and memory issues. In an essay that The Players’ Tribune published Tuesday, Jessica Pegula detailed for […]
2 days ago
Centennial High School boys basketball coach Karen Weitz, center, talks to her players during a boy...
Associated Press

2 women have rare job of coaching both girls, boys HS teams

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Centennial High School girls’ basketball team had just left the floor after yet another victory and coach Karen Weitz didn’t have time to waste. She quickly addressed the girls in the locker room before hurriedly returning to the court, ready to coach the boys. Weitz is a rarity — a […]
2 days ago
Alabama honors university’s first Black football players