Saturday, September 21, 2019

Derrick E. White's "Blood, Sweat, and Tears"

Derrick E. White is Visiting Associate Professor of History at Dartmouth College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Jake Gaither, Florida A&M, and the History of Black College Football, and reported the following:
Page 99 introduces the difficult situation facing Historically Black Colleges with the budding emergence of a civil rights movement.
The [Florida] state house questionnaire followed a blueprint created by the U.S. Congress's House Un-American Activities Committee. The Florida questionnaire also had a question about segregation. "Have you ever taught or expressed yourself as being against any provision of the racial segregation laws of Florida?" With this question, the state legislature connected integration and civil rights with Communism, putting FAMU's faculty and administration in a no-win position. Leading FAMU alumni and faculty members asked the house committee for clarification. "The question paramount in our minds," queried J. Leonard Lewis, an alumnus and an attorney for the Jacksonville-based Afro-American Insurance Company, "is what would be the interpretation of the committee of an affirmative answer to the question?" He continued, "No honest person being exposed to [segregation can] honestly say he hasn't expressed himself in opposition to the segregation laws as administered by Florida officials." Florida representative Guy Strayhorn answered, "If many professors answer 'no' to the question they should very properly consider their positions in doubt for lying." He added, "We feel we have a right to know if teachers are teaching contrary to the laws of Florida."

The survey results were a factor in FAMU president William H. Gray's resignation in July 1949. Ninety-seven percent of FAMU faculty denounced segregation. Moreover, state officials had been frustrated that Gray refused to crack down on students, faculty, and staff who tested the limits of exclusion through integrated education, equalizing salaries, and interracial socializing. Also, some Black alumni believed that strengthening FAMU undermined broader goals of integration. Gray had spent five years increasing the school's budget. He managed to get the state legislature to enhance appropriations from $208,000 to $1,599,000, improving, among other things, faculty and staff salaries . . . His resignation was just the beginning of the civil rights movement in Tallahassee.
Although there is not a single reference to football on this page, this test works in part for my book, because it introduces the greatest challenge facing FAMU’s football program after World War II—integration. HBCU administrators, like FAMU president William H. Gray and head football coach Jake Gaither, were caught between state elected officials that wanted to maintain segregation and black alumni, faculty, and staff that understood the immorality of segregation. Yet, coach Jake Gaither like President Gray wanted to show the quality of Florida A&M University.

HBCU students and alumni were critical in destroying Jim Crow segregation. Thurgood Marshall led the legal challenges against segregation, Martin Luther King, Jr., orchestrated non-violent direct-action protests, and FAMU students like the Patricia and Pricilla Stephens conducted sit-in campaigns at local businesses. These actions identified the legal, ethical, moral, and fiscal inequalities rooted in segregation. As president Gray’s resignation exhibited, however, HBCUs would bear considerable sacrifices. Blood, Sweat, & Tears: Jake Gaither, Florida A&M, and the History of Black College Football explains how HBCUs, in the dark shadow of the failure of Reconstruction, created athletic programs that became among the very best in the country after World War II. These under-resourced football programs relied on the support of faculty, staff, coaches, and the broader community—a sporting congregation—to have a significant impact on college and professional football. The civil rights movement created a circumstance in which the dominance of these programs was sacrificed in the name of integration.
Learn more about Blood, Sweat, and Tears at The University of North Carolina Press website. Follow Derrick E. White on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue