American Football as we know it was invented just four years after the Civil War and spread throughout the country’s elite white universities throughout the Reconstruction Era. The white history of American football began when there were only 37 States in the Union on the backs of guys named Walter Camp and Pop Warner, and the first ever football game was played between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869 – but when did Black football begin?
It began on December 27th, 1892 in Salisbury, North Carolina, a town that at the time had a population of about 4,000. Specifically at Livingstone College, which was the first college in all of North Carolina to grant Black women with college degrees just five years before in 1887.
Players from Biddle College, which is now Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C. traveled more than 40 miles in the winter by horse and buggy to Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C to play the first Black college football game ever on Livingstone’s snowy front lawn.
The uniforms worn by both teams were created by women who attended Livingstone’s industrial department. Their cleats were modified street shoes and both teams had to save up money to purchase a real regulation football.
The story of the first Black college football game is a story of young people making history on their own terms without anyone else’s permission. Consider the racial politics of 1892… this was four years BEFORE Plessy Vs. Ferguson codified segregation into law. This predates the Supreme Court codifying “separate, but equal,” which wouldn’t be overturned until 1954 by Brown Vs. the Board of Education.
Biddle ended up losing to Livingstone by a score of five to nothing on one lone touchdown scored on a fumble recovery by Livingstone manager W.J. Trent. In 1892, a touchdown was only worth five points and the extra point was not yet introduced to the game.
A few of the players from the first Black college football game were: J.W. Walker, W.J. Trent, R.J, Rencher, Henry Rives, J.R. Dillard, Wade Hampton, Charles H Patrick, J.J. Taylor, and F.H. Cummings. They were pioneers for what is now the biggest sport in America, and may they be remembered accordingly.