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Museum exhibit looks at the integration of the University of Alabama’s football program

Published: Nov. 3, 2021 at 6:54 PM CDT
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WBRC) - A museum at the University of Alabama takes a closer look back at one of the biggest changes to the school’s football program, integration.

The story starts with a basketball player becoming the first black athlete to integrate athletics at the University of Alabama. It ends with the school’s only Heisman winners taking home that trophy as black athletes. In between it tries to explain how coach Paul “Bear” Bryant integrated the football team and what that means today.

The Bryant Museum exhibit, “Breaking Barriers,” shows how coach Bear Bryant integrated the University of Alabama football team and who made it possible.

“The staff, we kind of sat down and talked about these gentlemen that broke barriers. They deserved more than a just a passing recognition for what they contributed,” explained Olivia Arnold, Director of the Bryant Museum.

The exhibit showcases Wendell Hudson, the first Black student-athlete at the University of Alabama. Then it moves to Wilbur Jackson, the first African-American scholarship football student-athlete, and John Mitchell, the first Black football student-athlete to take the field.

“You’re going to see the Wendell Hudson, Wilbur Jackson, John Mitchell that you’re expecting to see. But you’re going to see the things Coach Bryant was doing at Kentucky, when he was at Texas A&M and he was changing schedules so that his team was playing integrated teams,” Arnold continued.

Arnold said original plans to for a temporary, traveling exhibit seemed too small as they thought about the impact those first black athletes made. “We wanted to give these players the recognition that they deserve.”

Breaking Barriers is a permanent exhibit at the Bryant Museum. The museum is closed on Mondays. It’s open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on the other days of the week.

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