Time was in 1956 and the Civil Rights movement was beginning to mature. Public accommodations in the south were fully segregated. Jackie Robinson had already broken the racial barrier in profession sports but George Preston Marshall said that he would not play any black players on his Washington Redskins professional football team.

As a teenager I liked most of the good football teams in the country including the University of Southern California, then called Southern Cal and the University of California at Los Angeles called UCLA. I didn’t want to go to Note Dame because it was too cold so it was narrowed down to USC and UCLA. I choose to play football at SC because everyone told me that Blacks could not play there because SC was prejudiced. Being racially aware I did not think it was right for SC to discriminate. I thought that if I went to SC and played football another racial barrier would fall in this country. Since I decided not to date white girls, I felt that I would endure the hate mail and insults at USC until they got use to me. In my mind there was never a choice except go to SC and play football regardless of the unwritten rule. I attended SC in my freshmen, sophomore and junior year but became ineligible  to play football in my last year because I accepted a job, which was illegal in those days. The NCAA put USC on probation and I could not play football in my senior year thus dashing my hopes at winning the Heisman trophy. I paid for my senior year at SC by playing football in Canada and going to school in the off season. I graduated from USC with a BS in Business in 1960

In my last year at SC. there was a controversy. There was a racial problem when we played Daryl Royal's University of Texas Longhorns deep in the heart of Texas. In 1956 Blacks were forbidden to stay in the downtown hotels in Austin, Texas. We had three black players on our team. They were Lou Byrd, Hillard Hill and myself. Coach Jess Hill was told that he could not bring any black players with the team because they would have no place to stay and athletic competition between blacks and whites was forbidden in the state of Texas. Coach Hill threatened to cancel the game. Texas then agreed to let the black players stay in the YMCA outside of town. I refused to stay anyplace other than with the team even after they found another YMCA downtown. Texas relented, and I got on the team bus to leave for the game. Going to the game was different for me this time. On our ride to the airport the bus driver turned on a black radio station for us for the first time. I will never forget that ride to LAX, The sun was shinning beautifully, and the Clovers were singing one of my all time favorites “One Mint Julep”. I felt so good that I didn’t know what to do. It seemed to me they rest of the trip to Texas was uneventful, although the rest of the world had a different perspective.

We arrived at the hotel in downtown Austin and they refused to check us in. Jess Hill took the team to another hotel presumably owned by an SC alumnus and we were finally admitted. That night, they even admitted blacks and Mexicans into the end Zone seats for the first time.

At the Football Stadium:

It was sheer bedlam at the University of Texas Stadium as you see and hear the fans cheering. Tonight you could believe it when everyone tells you that football is “Texas Heaven” because Texas fans sure love their football. But as I warmed up I could hear some of the loudest cheering coming from the end zone. Blacks and Mexicans were encouraged to see football in this stadium for the first time, and tonight they were cheering for us, USC, Boy that made me feel good. I remembered the coach’s words before the game. CR don’t worry about what they do and don't to listen to any names they call you. I assure that we are all safe.

During the game I started out playing both ways, linebacker and fullback. Right away I went head hunting for their quarterback Walt Fonderan. He was special. His coach was the great Daryl Royal and he was called the million-dollar quarterback because his daddy was rich and he could throw the hell out of that football.

Starting the game I was feeling good. I had tackled their quarterback at least two times when the coach called me over and took me out of the game. After only a few plays I was taken off defense and told to play offense only. I figured this was a good idea because the crowd was getting ugly every time I made a good tackle or two. I am not sure but during the second quarter it seemed that the coach would take me out of the game overtime we got ahead or the crowd got upset (I was happy because there could have been a riot). I played a little while (offense only) during the third quarter and never got back into the game again.

I remember that we played some good football during that game but I remember what happened after the game most of all.

For me, the after game excitement made this the best trip we took all year. Every black hotel worker in Austin must have come to my room to see us that night. The hallway outside our room was packed with people all night long. They had come from far and wide just to see us. Everyone was so proud just to see us staying in the hotel that I don’t remember ever going to sleep. My roommate Lou Byrd and (now Mayor of Inglewood) I just talked to everyone all night.

History was made:

We had beaten Texas 42-20 that night and I had played only 12 minutes on offense. I was the first back in USC history to carry the ball for 251 yards in one game. I held the record for the most yards gained in one game for 23 years. My record of 251 yards and three touchdowns in twelve minutes of playing time still stands today.

This was a significant game. That day in Texas was the first time a Division One University had ever played an integrated team in that conference. We integrated the Southwest Football Conference for the first time. The same school USC and Sam Cunningham would integrate the Southeast Conference some years later when they played in Alabama.

I am still active in USC Alumni affairs and served on the SC Board of Governors until the end of my term. I take pride in the fact that minority ball players of the 50s, 60s and 70s often refer to me as the Father of black football players at SC.

My childhood:
I feel that my encounters with adversity at an early age prepared me for the Texas game and situations leading up to it.

I would go as far as to say that my unique childhood prepared me to help integrate college football.

I was born in Houston, Miss. In 1936. Got slapped for not going to segregated cars when I first crossed the Mason Dixon Line. I was about six years old when the big 1940 flood struck our house. Lighting hit the chimney of the old home while me and my two sisters were huddled up in the middle of the bed in the main bedroom. A huge electrical storm had hit the area and the Mississippi delta. The bed was knocked to the other side of the room and we all crawled through the fire and smoke to the door. Outside with water up to my waist we all linked hands in hand and waded through the rushing water safely to higher ground. The only bridge across the creek was out so we all walked across the creek on what was left of a two-by-four under at least four inches of rushing water. With my older sister leading the way, we all balanced ourselves as we crossed the slippery beam to safety. That’s when I realized I had great balance. Before we moved from that home, I witnessed a Klan raid.

One evening we heard gun shots and screams coming from Willie Le Ross, our neighbor's house. The screams came from a black family being mobbed by the clan. After the Clan left I was left with my sisters to watch our house while my parents went to look for Willie Le Ross’s kids, the ones who got away were hiding in the surrounding woods. It was frightening hearing your playmates scream for help.

We moved to Tolbert Howard’s farm after we helped save our neighbor Willie Lee Ross's children. At Mr. Tolbert’s I watched my dad single-handedly clear over six acres of logging timber in the woods around our house in addition to picking his regular share of cotton. One day my Dad drove the mules into the pool to cool them off and let them drink water. I was sitting on the front seat of the wagon with him and had a birds eye view of everything. The wagon go stuck in the mud and one of the mules fell down and started to drown. It could have meant certain death if a black man lost a wagon and let a mule drown as he earned his right to sharecrop on the Bossman’s property. I watched helplessly as my dad got into the muddy water chest deep and tried to the get animal out of the pool. I knew we were in trouble because my mother and siblings were all crying hysterically. The old Bossman and others came out of the big house to try and help. My Dad survived, the mules were saved and another team of horses pulled the wagon out of the muck, all with me watching from the front seat in the wagon. It becomes obvious to me at an early age that my life was second to a mule and a wagon.

We kept moving after we left Tolbert Howard’s, Mr. Trapp’s etc. and finally escaped to Oceanside California just about 38 miles north of San Diego. Dad became a Steel Driver for the Santa Fe Railroad and I was going into the third grade. We lived in a company house until I went to college. We used a wood stove for cooking and heating and had oil lamps for lighting. It was my job to cut the wood for our stove and to study by kerosene lamplight into my early High School years.

High School:
In my High school in Oceanside, I never encountered more than three or four black kids at one time but I learned a lot & graduated in the upper eighth of my class. During my last year in high school the National Guard refused to let me join until later when they found out that I was a high school football star. By the time I graduated, I became the National Guardsman of the year for the whole state of California.

I personally knew Tom Metzger who became one of the best-known Racist and Klan Leaders in the Nation. They threw rocks and beer cans at us when I played my frosh year of football in Vista, CA which east of Oceanside. During my high school days in Oceanside all the Mexicans lived in one part of town known as “Mexican Town or Pasole Town”. I was the youngest newspaper boy in San Diego County for several years and I sold papers in Camp Pendleton the big Marine Corps Base. Watching and sometimes joining in while the Marines trained and practiced helped me to become tough physically and mentally.

In high school the custodian who passes out towels in the boys shower room finally talked me into going out for football. In 1952 I set the record for the most touchdowns made in one-year (31), and scoring 187 points. I scored 194 points in 1953. My record of 30 TDs or more in each year in high school still stands today.

In 1999 Sports Writers chose me as the best Athlete to ever play football in San Diego County. I often talk to Johnnyboy and his wife back in Oceanside. He was a 148lb. Line Backer on my high school football team.

Professional Football and thereafter:
The New York Giants drafted me in my Jr. year of college even though I would not have been able to play until my class graduated the next year. NFL rules prevented college players from playing in the NFL until their class graduated. I think they should still have that rule today because it helped more college players’ mature and graduate from college. I played football with the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tigercats in Canada until my class graduated. I accepted an invitation and played on the Taxi squad of the New York Giants because I wanted to see what living in the great city of New York was like. The NY Giants had one of the best teams and coaching I had ever seen. There was the great Jim Lee Howell as head coach, and he had Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, and Don Shula plus others as assistants but blacks and white players stayed at different hotels when we traveled on the road.

I complained about blacks and whites sleeping in separate hotels and found myself traded to Pittsburgh, which was really the pits. Players still stayed in separate hotels on the road and Pittsburgh socially was no New York. After a ball game we were in the dressing room getting ready to go out, when I pulled another “No, No”. After showering I saw most of the players leaving to go out on the town. I called out for them to wait for me. A black veteran called me aside and whispered to me that we were not going with them, because the white players were going “downtown.” When I asked him where were we going? He said, we are going to the black side of town. That night the black players went out, literally “across the tracks”. There was only two clubs that the players frequented in Pittsburgh at that time. The little nightclubs were on the south side of town across a set of Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) railroad tracks setting deep in a canyon surrounded by two mountains. The “B&O” smelled like “BO” to me.

After attending two segregated Clubs on the wrong side of town I let it be known in no uncertain terms that I was going home to California. I left Pittsburgh less than a week later and took at least four white and one black player with me. I took at least there players to California including Mike Henry who later played Tarzan in the movies. I went directly to the Forty Niners in San Francisco and was happy to be in California once again. While with the 49ers I became a member of the famed Alphabet Backfield of Y.A. Title, C.R. Roberts, R.C. Owens and J.D. Smith. We went to the Division finals and beat the Champion Johnny Unitas Baltimore Colts to win a playoff berth with the Green Bay Packers and their new Head Coach Vince Lombardi. The “playoffs” berth we won would be called the “Super Bowl” today because two leagues are now merged and they play each other for the championship every year, but we had only one league in those days.

Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers beat us13 to 12 in historic Keezar Stadium in San Francisco that night in the rain. Green Bay and their new Head Coach Vince Lombardi went on to become the team of the decade.

There are many that would argue that we would have beaten Green Bay if the game had been played in the sun, instead of in the mud and rain. I believe it also.

Presently I am President of the First United Methodist Men of Compton UMC and on administrative leave from Hawthorne High School in Hawthorne California. As for SC I am active in Alumni affairs, mentor students and I served out my term on the Board of Governors of the General Alumni Association of the University. As for football I serve on the Executive Board of the NFL Retired Players Association.

Twelve Minutes in Texas. I still hold the record for the number of yards gained in 12 minutes at SC. I now have this game on video but it is of very poor quality and filmed by the U. of Texas. I will show it but keep in mind in 1956 there were no multiple cameras, wide angle lens, or close ups.

One of the runs may be worth seeing even in black and white and from a one dimensional cameral angle. I can't say, but fans who saw this video say that I may have created the run that O J made famous in the UCLA game, start left make the cutback, the downfield downfield blocking and all. Viewers will have to judge the run on this film for yourselves.

The End.

    Author

    C. R. Roberts is a former American football player who played fullback for the USC Trojans and the San Francisco 49ers.

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