How five black men helped to transform UCLA, college and professional sports, and American life.
In the late 1930s and early ’40s, at a time when the vast majority of American colleges and universities had no black athletes, UCLA had numerous black athletes across its athletic program. Five of these stars—the focus of this fine book by Johnson (Emeritus, Journalism/Univ. of Arizona; The Dandy Dons: Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Phil Woolpert, and One of College Basketball’s Greatest and Most Innovative Teams, 2009, etc.)—were stars who would go on to make tremendous contributions to American life beyond the playing fields, and three of them would be pioneers in integrating professional sports. Jackie Robinson is the most famous among them due to his epochal role in integrating Major League Baseball. Ironically enough, for Robinson, a four-sport star at UCLA and arguably one of the greatest all-around athletes in American history, baseball was probably the sport at which he was least adept. Kenny Washington—possibly the best college football player in the country when he was an upperclassman at UCLA—and Woody Strode also competed successfully in multiple sports and were pioneers in integrating professional football in 1946, months before Robinson debuted for the Dodgers. Ray Bartlett was the least well-known of the five men but was a multisport star who faced the same struggles as a leader in race relations. Tom Bradley was a college track star who became a vital member of the Los Angeles Police Department and, even more significantly, the first black mayor of LA. Indeed, all five men had impressive post-sports careers—Strode gained more fame as an actor than as an athlete—and in this short, elegant, important book, the author adeptly shows their lives as sporting and civic pioneers.
Johnson engagingly captures the lives, struggles, and triumphs of five men whose greatness transcended American sports.