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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The University of Illinois in the Cold War Era 1945-1975: The Black Athlete at the U of I

Black Athletes at the University of Illinois

The Black Athlete at the University of Illinois

Albert Spurlock, African-American track athlete, circa 1930s

Although the University of Illinois enrolled very few African Americans prior to diversity efforts in the late 1960s, starting in the 1930s black men were recruited to campus for their athletic ability.  However, certain sports remained white-only until the 1950s.  Like black athletes at other predominantly white schools, black Illini athletes often faced segregation and discrimination on and off campus.  Inspired by the Civil Rights movement and the culture of protest in the 1960s and 70s, however, black athletes across the nation struggled against academic steering into physical education courses, segregated facilities, prejudiced coaches and administrators, and being treated as an “athletic commodity.”  This battle culminated in the “revolt of the black athlete,” symbolized most forcefully by Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their gloved fists in the black power salute at the 1968 Summer Olympics.

University of Illinois Sources:

Black Athletes- Reference File

Sports Interviews, 1967 (RS 0/1/808):  Includes a filmed interview with former University of Illinois football player Claude “Buddy” Young concerning football, effects of athletic competition on race relations, and discrimination in Urbana-Champaign.

Albert C. Spurlock Papers, 1936-1945; 1994; 2001; 2005 (RS 41/20/137): Includes an oral history with Spurlock, a black track athlete at the U of I.

Albert Lee Papers, (RS 2/6/21): Includes a report on the status of African American students at the U of I in 1940.

David Brian Reed, “The History of the Negro Athlete at the University of Illinois (1904-1969),” MA Thesis. University of Illinois, 1972.  Copies in the University Archives Book Collection and Main Stacks of the library.

Maureen Margaret Smith, “Identity and Citizenship: African American Athletes, Sport, and the Freedom Struggles of the 1960s,” Thesis (Ph. D.) -- Ohio State University, 1999.

Jean Knapp, “The University of Illinois and Its Negroes,” The Green Cauldron (Apr. 12, 1946) (RS: 15/7/811): Box 2

Daily Illini, 1874- (Microform in Newspaper Library)



 Amy Bass, Not the Triumph but the Struggle: The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete (Minneapolis: 2002).

Harry Edwards, The Revolt of the Black Athlete (New York: 1969).

Jack Olsen, The Black Athlete: A Shameful Story; The Myth of Integration in American Sport (New York: 1968).

Donald Spivey and Thomas A. Jones, “Intercollegiate Athletic Servitude: A Case Study of the Black Illini Student-Athletes, 1931-1967” Social Science Quarterly 55 (1975): 939-947.

Joy Williamson, Black Power on Campus: The University of Illinois, 1965-1975. (Champaign: 2003).