September 1, 1955: The African-American Absence
The 1950's saw the birth of rock and roll and the explosion of television sitcoms. The decade was also marked by the influx of African-American athletes into the sporting world following Jackie Robinson's debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. However, one would not realize the significance of African-Americans in athletics by reading sports pages during the 1950's. The athletic achievements of African-Americans were often doomed to the latter pages of sports sections in favor of advertisements and routine sports articles. The San Francisco Chronicle is guilty of hiding the impact of African-Americans in sports, reflecting a lack of racial tolerance.
It can be said that newspapers are a reflection of the society that they represent. If one were to look at the San Francisco Chronicle sports page in 1955, a message of racial intolerance would surely be present. September 1, 1955 surely is no exception. The front page of that sports section features a report on a horse race, a story on a baseball game and an advertisement for Early Times Kentucky Whiskey. Nowhere is an African-American athlete mentioned. It seems as if society during the pre-Civil Rights era was more concerned with promoting gambling on horse races and drinking whiskey. After a few more pages of baseball game reports featuring pictures of white players and more liquor advertisements, there is finally a mention of a black athlete. However, it does not portray 1950's society in the best light.
The headline for the bottom corner column of page 5H reads, "Cureton Becomes First Negro UCLA Captain" (see attached article). This headline is telling for several reasons. First of all, the first black football captain at UCLA was named eight years after Jackie Robinson entered Major League Baseball. It took UCLA eight whole years to make a stand and put a black player in a position of leadership on their football team. The school missed the boat the first time around, as Jackie Robinson, himself, lettered in football for the Bruins. He was a star on the team as a running back and from all reports was a man of great character, yet was passed over when it came time to elect the captain of the team.
Hardiman Cureton, a decade later, had more luck than Robinson. He must have been ecstatic to be elected captain. However, to be called a "Negro" in the headline of an article written about an honor bestowed upon him must have felt like a slap in the face. Or maybe it didn't. Maybe he expected to be called a "Negro" because it was commonplace in 1950's American society. The San Francisco Chronicle certainly portrayed it as such.
The fact that this article even needed to be written says a lot about American society as a whole. Nowadays, it is fairly uncommon to find a college football team without a black captain. Back in 1955, the naming of a black captain was news. Maybe it was not news that people had an...