Smart and Strong: Texas duo a part of school’s complicated racial history

(University of Texas photo)

A little more than a year after hiring Charlie Strong to guide its football program, the University of Texas introduced Shaka Smart as its new basketball coach on Friday.

The pair are both the first African-Americans to achieve their positions at the school, which has a complicated. Though neither man attended nor coached at HBCUs, the groundwork for both of them landing in Austin has an HBCU connection.

Texas didn’t accept its first black student until 1950, when Heman Marion Sweatt sued his way into law school at UT. Sweatt received his undergraduate degree from Wiley College. His case was argued by Dr. Charles H. Thompson, Dean of the Howard University Graduate school.

Despite begrudingly admitting blacks as early as the 50s, they remained on the fringes of the school, and didn’t feel welcome to participate in extracurricular activities.

Desegregation of the basketball and football teams wouldn’t occur until 1968, when basketball coach Leon Black brought in Sam Bradley. Bradley played on the freshman basketball team that year, and in 1970 became the first black varsity player.

( photo) Sam Bradley was the first black student-athlete in Texas history. 

Texas’ first star black basketball player was Jimmy Blacklock. Since then, players like T.J. Ford, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant have starred for the Longhorns on the court, but never for a black coach.

The same goes for Texas’ football program, who have had a succession of great black players from Earl Campbell to Ricky Williams to Vince Young, but never a black coach before hiring Strong in 2014.

Nearly 65 years after Sweatt was enrolled in UT law school, African-Americans make up just four percent of all UT students, according to Forbes, despite making up nearly 12 percent of the state’s population. (And if some people had their way, it would be an even lower percentage.)

Meanwhile, 10 of 16 members of the 2014-15 Longhorn hoop squad were African-American.

As great as having two black coaches in cash-cow sports at Texas is, its far from evidence that equality has been won, as some would have you believe.

Holler at me when Texas Southern or Prairie View has the money to lure away a coach from another Division I school or can recruit top athletes.

Having Mike Davis on the bench is a steal for TxSo, but he had to get let go at Indiana and UAB before he got to Houston. And there’s no guarantee he’ll stay if a good enough offer comes along.

Strong and Smart represent the fact that if you are an outstanding black coach with the right connections, you can get a top job if you pay your dues. And that’s not a bad thing. Just don’t confuse it with fantasies of a post-racial America.

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