Exclusive, Never Before Seen Video Discovered
Students interview University of Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at Parker High School in Birmingham the day before the A-Day game in the spring of 1973. Filmed by teacher Dan Fulton. Posted here with permission for the first time ever on the Web, by Glynn Wilson, LocustFork.Net.
The young people were all Boy Scouts and students at Hill Elementary School, down the street from Parker High School, Fulton said in a telephone interview after sending me the DVD and MP4 file. Holding the microphone to the right of Coach Bryant is Fidel Patterson. To the left is Kerry Seals. Facing Coach Bryant is Reginald Jones.
It was also Wendell Hudson Day. Hudson is now the eighth head women’s basketball coach at the University of Alabama.
Bryant had already integrated the team with African-Americans, non-scholarship, walk-on players, by the early 1970s.
During a deposition in a lawsuit filed in 1969 by U.W. Clemon for the Afro-American Association of the University of Alabama, however, Bryant said his staff had been scouting black players as early as 1966.
But it wasn’t until five months after the federal lawsuit was filed that Alabama signed its first black football player to a scholarship in 1970, Wilbur Jackson. The next year another player became the first black to appear in a varsity football game for Alabama.
According to the Alabama Associated Press account of the story, Bryant recalled telling a black high school coach that it was “a little too soon” to have a black player at Alabama and implied that the state’s racial climate was a “problem.”
The suit was dismissed in 1971 after the university gave a handful of scholarships to black athletes, according to AP, and that’s when the monitoring by the FBI ended too. Bryant’s FBI file ran 27 pages.
Clemon said in an interview that black high school coaches would have testified that Alabama didn’t seem truly interested in attracting black players until after the loss to Southern California in 1970. The game was viewed by many as opening fans’ eyes to the idea that racial integration was inevitable if Alabama wanted to have a successful football program.
“Bear Bryant got religion after the USC game, and it was dismissed without trial,” Clemon said, although his view has been disputed by some. Some accounts indicate Bryant wanted black players sooner than the university administration and powerful alumni of the day, but perhaps the USC game did help end some of the opposition.
The 1973 season, when this video was filmed, was the first year Alabama won a national championship with scholarship black players, although they had to share the title with Notre Dame after losing to the Fighting Irish 24–23 in the Sugar Bowl. The 1973 Alabama football team was selected national champions in the final Coaches’ Poll prior to the bowl games.
Because of the controversy after the bowl loss, the Coaches’ Poll began selecting their champion after the bowl games starting in 1974. The AP poll placed Alabama 4th that year, and selected Notre Dame as its top team after the season.
© 2010, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.