Just a few decades ago, the acronym “HBCU” was synonymous with black coaching and athletic achievement. Today, however, it’s much more difficult to find sports fans who know that “HBCU” stands for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and more difficult still to find those who remember the role these schools played in shaping the college football landscape as we know it today.
“Student Body Left” is a multimedia journalism project that explores the unique relationship between the desegregation of the South Eastern Conference (SEC) in NCAA athletics and the overall decline of sports at the Historical Black College & Universities (HBCU). Up until the 1980s, the HBCUs had some of the most illustrious programs in the South, and routinely sent players to the NFL. They defied Jim Crow by fielding incredible football teams of all-black athletes that challenged white supremacy, and in doing so, promoted civil rights through sports.
But then desegregation happened in the SEC schools (Mississippi, LSU, Alabama, etc.), and not only did the complexion of college football change, so too, did the landscape of football in the South. By and large society heralds the integration of the SEC as a major accomplishment in our society, and while that’s not arguable, the space that HBCU football now occupies in the conversation of NCAA athletics is one of novelty and afterthought. Much of their remarkable history has been forgotten, falling into the shadows of the bigger, formerly all-white SEC schools.
This project focuses on Grambling State and Southern Universities, fierce rivals and schools that once were the pinnacle of HBCU football in Louisiana. Through interviews with former coaches and players from those schools, including James Harris, the first black quarterback to start successfully in the NFL, “Student Body Left” aims to tell the other side of the story of desegregation in the SEC.
“Student Body Left” is broken up into four chapters, each focusing on a specific part of this complex story.
“Consequences” details desegregation in the SEC and the crippling fallout of that action. “New Directions” takes a look at where the HBCUs stand today, and what can be done to better preserve this illustrious history going forward. Through video and audio interviews, interactive graphics and photos, this hidden history of HBCU excellence takes shape.