The birthplace of Black football traces back to local HBCUs

CHARLOTTE — Football is essential to the HBCU experience, but long before contemporary conferences and rivalries, two local Historically Black Colleges battled in the first Black football game.

Livingstone College alumni and current coaches Michael Austin and Mark Williams sat down with Channel 9′s sports reporter DaShawn Brown to tell the story dating back to 1892.

“This really is the grandfather of them all when it comes to Black College Football.,” said Williams.

The first Black college football game ever took place on the college’s snowy front lawn on December 27, 1892.

“Playing a set of cleats with nails instead of actual molded bottom plastic cleats,” Austin said.

Johnson C. Smith University, then called Biddle, traveled to fight the Blue Bears.

“Johnson C. Smith won 5-0,” remembered Maurice Flowers, JCSU’s head coach and former quarterback. “But the story as we have been taught here at JCSU was the game took two years to organize, and it took two years to get dates, right, location.”

JCSU Library Services Director Brandon Lunsford offered more insight from the archives on how that game came to be.

“Biddle issued a challenge that Livingstone promptly accepted, mainly out of playground pride,” Lunsford said. “I guess is that Johnson C. Smith had the transportation to have the horses and the wagons to take the team in.”

Although it’s been 130 years, the rivalry remains strong - and the story remains unclear.

“And just knowing that we recovered a fumble, scored a touchdown and somehow they said we were out of bounds,” said Williams, the associate head coach of Livingstone.

“If you ask anyone outside of Salisbury everyone hears that Johnson C. Smith won the game,” said Flowers.

Most of the history has been passed down orally through generations, so details are fuzzy, but the heart and soul of the sport remain the same.

“What was their understanding of strategy and how to play a football game - it’s a way that you can connect, but you’re searching for the connection at the same time,” said Austin.

These coaches have common goals in their love of football -- keeping the history alive and recognizing the talent that comes from HBCU’s.

“There was segregation. And we weren’t allowed in public white institutions. So you had HBCUs that produce the top athletes in the draft,” explained Flowers. “Ben Coates one of the best tight ends in NFL history. And he came from Livingstone.”

The solution? Be so good, they can’t ignore you.

“It needs to be on a bigger stage, but that goes back to us becoming exceptionally good on the field so that it becomes easier for us to put that message out there,” Williams said.

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