Subversive Historian – 10/20/08

The Johnny Bright Incident

Fifty-seven years ago on this day in people’s history, the Johnny Bright Incident occurred. During a college football game on October 20th, 1957, a white player named Wilbanks Smith from Oklahoma A&M broke the jaw of Johnny Bright, talented African-American halfback/quarterback from Drake University. Taking place in the first seven minutes of the game at Lewis Field in Oklahoma, the violent attack underscored the racist tensions of the times. A newspaper journalist from the Des Moines Register reported that the Oklahoma Aggies coach told his players during practice before the game to “get that nigger.” A photographic sequence of the incident that went on to win a Pulitzer Prize was also published in the paper and showed the assault to be an intentional and late hit. Unfortunately for Bright, the injury ended his promising season which could have resulted in him being the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy.

Bright would later be drafted by the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and stood poised to become the first black athlete in the league, but chose to play in Canada instead knowing that more “incidents” awaited him in the U.S.

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