Racial incident in college football game


More than a "personal foul"
Date: 
Sat, 1951-10-20

On this date in 1951, a racial incident of, during the college football game between Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) and Drake University.

During the first quarter of the game, Drake’s Johnny Bright, a black running back and the nation's leading rusher, was knocked out of the game with a broken jaw by Oklahoma A&Ms defensive tackle Wilbanks Smith, who was white. With Bright gone, A&M erased an early deficit and won the game over previously unbeaten Drake.

A sequence of photos the next day in the Des Moines Register by photographers Don Ultang and John Robinson, showed Wilbanks Smith punching Bright on two separate plays (one shown). When Bright (an Indiana native) attended Drake in 1948 as one of the few black collegians in Des Moines, there was a distinct line between blacks and whites at the school. Among other things blacks were not permitted to live on campus. The entire state of Oklahoma was totally segregated--transportation, water fountains, everything.

The day before the game, Drake fullback Gene Macomber, while getting a haircut, remembers the barber telling him “the black guy would not finish the game.” In the photos (shown) the third hit clearly shows Smith drawing back his fist and hitting Bright, and after taking him out of the game it was found that his jaw was broken. In retaliation, Drake sidelined three A&M running backs, as the game became a rough and dirty afternoon. Without their star player, A&M won 27-14.

Years later in 1983, Johnny Bright, then a junior high school principal in Edmonton, Canada, died of a heart attack at age 53. A friend of Bright remembers that one of those who sent a floral arrangement to the funeral was Wilbanks Smith.

Reference:
Los Angeles Times
by Adam Buckley Cohen
Oct. 20, 2001