TUSCALOOSA, Alabama (WBRC) – A University of Alabama museum takes a closer look at one of the biggest changes to the school’s football program, integration.
The story begins with a basketball player who becomes the first black athlete to enter athletics at the University of Alabama. It ends with the school’s only Heisman winners taking home this trophy as black athletes. In the meantime, he tries to explain how coach Paul “Bear” Bryant joined the football team and what that means today.
The Bryant Museum’s “Breaking Barriers” exhibit shows how Coach Bear Bryant joined the University of Alabama football team and made it happen.
“Staff, we kind of sat down and talked about these gentlemen who broke the barriers. They deserved more than passing recognition for their contribution, ”explained Olivia Arnold, director of the Bryant Museum.
The exhibit features Wendell Hudson, the first black student-athlete at the University of Alabama. Then it moves on to Wilbur Jackson, the first African-American football student-athlete scholar, and John Mitchell, the first black student-footballer-athlete to enter the field.
“You’re going to see the Wendell Hudson, Wilbur Jackson, John Mitchell that you expect to see. But you’re going to see the things Coach Bryant was doing in Kentucky, when he was at Texas A&M and he was changing the schedules to have his team play integrated teams, ”Arnold continued.
Arnold said initial plans for a temporary, traveling exhibit seemed too small as they considered the impact of these early black athletes. “We wanted to give these players the recognition they deserve.”
Breaking Barriers is a permanent exhibit at the Bryant Museum. The museum is closed on Mondays. It is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. the other days of the week.
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