Pioneers: Four black players who joined Tulane football team in 1971 will be honored on Saturday | Tulane

Charlie Hall and John Washington now know their role in integrating Tulane’s football team was huge, but both admit they didn’t realize it at the time.

Between the first and second quarter of Saturday’s home game against the Cincinnati No.2 (11 a.m. ESPN2), Hall and Washington will be honored along with their 1971 classmates Robert Johnson (deceased) and Charles Inniss on the occasion. of the 50th anniversary of their becoming the first black soccer players in Tulane. The quartet will also serve as honorary captains and hoist the traditional No.18 flag in honor of Devon Walker, who was crippled in Green Wave’s match against Tulsa in 2012.

“Back then, I never thought about the importance,” said Hall, a Lake Charles product and a strong defensive tackle who won All-America honors in 1973 and was drafted in the fourth round of the. 1975 Saints NFL Draft. “I just played football and tried to get there, but when you look back you see how important it was to say you started something. When you look at the squad now, you just see the diversity they have based on color. “

Pioneers spoke to a Tulane roster on Friday in which 59 of 84 stock players are black.

When they arrived in 1971, there were none.

Washington, of Garland just outside of Dallas, was an outstanding cornerback, drafted in the eighth round by the Los Angeles Rams in 1974. He, too, didn’t consider himself a history maker when he picked. Tulane rather than Texas A&M, SMU and North Texas State.

“It didn’t even occur to me that I was the first guy,” he said. “I helped integrate my school district in 1966, so when I went down to Tulane it was very customary. I made my trip in February when the grass was brown and it was cold in North Texas. I got on the plane, got out of the clouds an hour and a half later and it was 70 degrees and the grass was green. I knew this was where I needed to be.

They were not the first black athletes in any sport in Tulane. Stephen Morton broke the color barrier in 1965 on the freshman baseball team against LSU, joining the varsity team the following season.

But people of color playing for once all-white teams in the South were relatively new. The first Black SEC football player was Nate Northington of Kentucky in 1968. LSU, like Tulane, broke the color barrier in 1971.

“I can’t even imagine the hardship these guys had to go through being the first (black soccer players in Tulane),” said coach Willie Fritz. “It’s good to honor the guys who were part of a revolutionary experience like this.”

While clarifying that they weren’t generalizing for someone else’s experience, Hall and Washington said their transition went smoothly.

Hall – who chose Tulane over McNeese State, UL, or Northwestern State because his mother was sold on academics – had no issues with new trainer Bennie Ellender or his staff after the coaches who had him recruited left with Jim Pittman for TCU in late 1970. His freshman roommate was quarterback Steve Foley of Jesuit.

“I went to a predominantly white school when I was in Lake Charles so it wasn’t bad at all for me,” he said. “I was able to adapt. I did not encounter any (resistance) on campus.

Foley immediately turned to Hall, who was great and laid back off the pitch. He invited him to his family’s house for Thanksgiving and on several other occasions, and the two became roommates in their first year after graduating from Tulane when they both played for Jacksonville in the League. world football.

“Charlie was a prince of a guy, and I loved every minute of it,” Foley said. “When they told me I was going to a room with him, I didn’t think it was a big deal. Charlie has such a gentle mind and still has it today. I remember he came to my house a lot.

One of Hall’s favorite haunts on campus was the Rathskeller, a student union dining hall that stayed open late and where he could be seen gulping down several burgers, fries, and pizzas in one sitting as he passed through. ‘a 215 or higher. freshman pound to a 260-pound murderer without losing any momentum. He said his biggest mentors were his older teammates Harold Asher, Glenn Harder and Mike Koesling, who made sure he stayed focused.

Washington recalled a different dining experience that put him at ease, involving Inez Brown, a cook in the athletics hall cafeteria.

“She was like a big mom to us,” he said. “She was a good, uncompromising Baptist. I went to her church and I went to her house after church and had a good meal cooked in Louisiana. She had a way of taking care of us. I had no problem (feeling comfortable in Tulane). Not at all.”

Hall was Catholic, but Brown treated him well too. Knowing he loved pancakes, she made him a special batch when he joined the line, adding several slices of bacon between the pancakes while giving everyone the already made ones.

Washington said Johnson, his freshman roommate and the third black fellow player (Inniss was a replacement), had a harder time assimilating because he came from an all-black high school in Dallas. He still graduated like the other three.

The friendships they made lasted a lifetime. Washington – who retired to Rowlett, Texas after 40 years of teaching as a teacher, coach and administrator – talks at least three times a month with Hall, who lives in Metairie and has retired after 33 years of teaching at Jefferson Parish. Washington also kept in close contact with Wyatt Washington, a product of Jackson, Mississippi, who joined the Wave in 1972.

The Tulane teams they were a part of have won 17 of 21 games at one point, including an eighth LSU’s 14-0 shutout in 1973 at Tulane Stadium in front of the largest crowd (86,598) who had attended a game of the South up to this point.

While Washington and Hall are reluctant to discuss their importance, Foley – who has promised to take Washington to dinner when he arrives in New Orleans – is not.

“If Charlie, John and Robert had left Tulane, think of the other black athletes who wouldn’t have come and who made up a big part of the 72, 73 and 74 squad when we were pretty loaded and we started having guys. from St. Aug and guys all over the place, ”he said. “These guys made a huge impact as pioneers for Tulane football.”

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