CR Roberts, a black running back at the University of Southern California, was in 1956 when his integrated football team, the Trojans, traveled to Jim Crow South to play against the all-white University of Texas Longhorns in Austin. I was afraid of what would happen.
There were also death threats before the game. he wondered. Would he die if a shotgun exploded from the stands at Memorial Stadium?
“The tension was high,” he said in the 2018 documentary. “Breaking Barriers: The Story of CR Roberts” Directed by Jeremy Sadowski. “When you were near the sidelines, I heard adjectives coming from the crowd.”
Despite the potential for violence, Roberts delivered a sensational performance, leading the Trojans to a 44-20 win. In the second quarter, he aimed for a 73-yard touchdown and struggled to cover another 50 yards.
He scored again in the third quarter with a 74-yard run on his final carry. In total he gained his 251 yards, which was his one-game rushing record that has been maintained for his 19 years at USC. The Los Angeles Times called him “an explosive bolt of searing speed.”
But Roberts, who was one of three black players on the USC team, said coach Jess Hill pulled him out of the game as the crowd yelled the N word shortly after scoring the final touchdown. rice field.
“The atmosphere in that stadium was very negative towards blacks,” Roberts said in “Breaking Down Barriers.”
The Trojan victory came in the early days of the civil rights movement in Montgomery, Alabama, when black citizens were boycotting segregated buses, and the game is now hailed as an important racial advancement of its time. It is
In 1966, Texas Western College (now the University of Texas at El Paso) defeated an all-white University of Kentucky team to become the first team to have an all-black starting five in an NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.
And in 1970, USC’s All-Black backfield member Sam Cunningham threw for 135 yards and scored two touchdowns in a 42-21 victory over the all-white University of Alabama team. The Crimson Tide freshman team had a black player, and this game is said to have given Alabama manager Paul (Bear) Bryant the go-ahead from upper management to aggressively recruit black players.
Roberts died Tuesday at a nursing home in Norwalk, Connecticut, according to Roberts’ daughter Kathy Crecia. he was 87 years old.
Cornelius R. Roberts was born on February 29, 1936 in Tupelo, Michigan. His father, also named Cornelius, was a cotton picker and a railroad steel driver. His mother, Audra May (Dubs) Roberts, was a homemaker.
Roberts recalled that his mother felt the family needed to leave racist Mississippi.
“Get our son out of Mississippi or they’ll kill him,” he quoted her as telling his father. Interview on USC website in 2015.
In third grade, Roberts recalled playing with a white boy in an integrated carriage as the family took the train home from Oceanside, California, when the train arrived on the Mason-Dixon Line. At that point his mother separated him from the boy. The family had to move to a quarantined bus.
“Once we crossed the Mason-Dixon line and headed south, the blacks had to go back to their cars and be quarantined again. I didn’t understand.”
The family then moved to Oceanside, where Roberts became a star player at Oceanside Carlsbad High School with a staggering 65 touchdowns. A local newspaper in 1954 hailed him as the “All-American Negro Flash,” in the language of the time.
A former ROTC training team leader in high school, Roberts hoped to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point. “If the math was smarter, we could have gotten there,” he told the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2012.
In Southern California, he finished second to John Arnett in 1955. He would lead the team in that category in 1956, his junior year, thanks in part to a brilliant game against Texas.
But he hardly got there. USC coaches initially suggested he wouldn’t travel to Austin with the team, citing racial issues. He replied that he would rather quit the team than stay home. His teammates stood by him and refused to go to Texas unless the black players on the team (others being Lewis Byrd and Hillard Hill) would go.
The University of Texas side didn’t welcome him, even though he played Washington State University, which has black players, two years ago. USC was told to keep three black players on the team.
“Texas called us about a week before the game and told us that no color could be played and that each race could not compete at the same time,” Roberts told the Austin American Statesman in 2005. Told.
After some negotiations, the whole team headed to Austin. However, the hotel the team was supposed to be staying at did not allow Roberts, Bird and Hill as guests and arranged for them to stay at the YMCA. The team refused and went to another hotel. The hotel had a quarantine policy, and despite being persuaded, black hotel employees and locals gathered to greet the three players.
After the Pacific Coast Conference (now Pac-12) penalized USC and other schools for providing illegal financial assistance to its players, Roberts did not play in 1957 during his senior year.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration from USC in 1957, Roberts played two seasons in college. Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. He then moved to the NFL, where he had 155 carries for 637 yards in four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers.
After that, I taught typing and business skills in high school and college, and opened a travel agency and tax consulting service.
In addition to his daughter Kathy, he has another surviving daughter, Chandra Roberts. son Craig. and four grandchildren. Joyce Moss’ marriage to Yvonne Barton ended in divorce.
Despite his football accomplishments, Roberts remembered the game in Texas and the emotions it evoked vividly. “I didn’t care who I was playing,” he said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times on match day.
“We were going to beat them,” he said. “Everybody had a shoulder injury. We played our best game.”