History Advocate for the Kentucky Historical Society, Stuart Sanders, gives us a brief glimpse into the significance of the 50th anniversary of the integration of the SEC.03/17/18
September 30, 1967 marks the 50th anniversary of the first integrated football game in the SEC between the University of Kentucky and the University of Mississippi. Following the tragic death of Greg Page on September 29, Nathaniel Northington became the first African American player to play in an SEC football game.03/17/18
Charles Bradshaw, head coach of the University of Kentucky football team from 1962 to 1968. Bradshaw played a role in signing the first African American players, Nathaniel Northington and Greg Page, to UK’s football team.03/17/18
In 1965, UK recruited Nathaniel Northington to play football for the UK Wildcats – a few weeks later UK football coach Charles Bradshaw signed Greg Page from Middlesboro, Kentucky. Northington and Page pushed for further integration and by the fall of August 1967, other African American players were signed, including Wilbur Hackett and Houston Hogg.
Tragedy struck, however, during practice in August, leaving Greg Page paralyzed from the neck down. Page died on September 29, one day before Northington broke the SEC’s color barrier in the September 30, 1967 game against the University of Mississippi.03/17/18
John Oswald served as the University of Kentucky’s sixth president from 1963 – 1968. Although a short tenure at the helm of the university, Oswald’s progressive stance on academics and integration steered UK toward the recruitment of African American players.
Oswald picked up where his predecessor, former UK president Frank Dickey, left off by guiding behind-the-scenes conversations regarding the racial desegregation of the SEC. Concerned over Kentucky’s future in the SEC and the overall survival of the conference, UK athletics director Bernie Shively and Auburn athletics director Jeff Beard proposed a plan in which teams would play five permanent conference opponents and two additional teams on a rotating basis. This plan laid the early foundation for today’s conference schedule in the SEC.03/17/18
Nathaniel “Nate” Northington signs with the University of Kentucky at the president’s office in Lexington, 1965. Standing behind Northington are (L to R) Kentucky governor Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt, UK football coach Charles Bradshaw, Thomas Jefferson High School football coach Jim Gray, and University of Kentucky president John W. Oswald. Courtesy of University of Kentucky Special Collections Research Center.03/17/18