Tuskegee Honored at Hall of Fame

February 25, 2015 4 By Michael
Tuskegee University's football program is honored as the "Helmet of the Week," at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta this week.

Tuskegee University’s football program is honored as the “Helmet of the Week,” at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta this week, February 22-28, 2015.

Tuskegee honored at Hall of Fame.  The crimson helmet of the Golden Tigers of Tuskegee is on display as part of the College Football Hall of Fame’s “Helmet of the Week” feature.

It is an appropriate designation as the month long celebration of Black History draws to a close next week. After all, the legendary football program at Tuskegee has won more games than any other Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in the history of college football.

The school, located in East Alabama, began playing football in 1894 under the tutelage of  James Washington. Coach Washington was the brother of the school’s first principal, Booker T. Washington. He organized the first football team with the assistance of William Clarence Matthews, a student-athlete who had learned the intricacies of the game of football.

Matthews did not play on the football team. He helped Washington coach that first team to an 0-2 season. Matthews was a member of the Tuskegee baseball team and would later go on to play baseball for four years at Harvard, where in 1905, he was described as the ideal black person to re-integrate major league baseball.

Harold Michael Harvey posing alongside the portrait of William Clarence Matthews during Matthews induction into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in the 2014 class. Harvey a former baseball player at Tuskegee represented Matthews at the induction ceremony.

Harold Michael Harvey posing alongside the portrait of William Clarence Matthews during Matthews induction into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in the 2014 class. Harvey a former baseball player at Tuskegee represented Matthews at the induction ceremony.

When the baseball owners were slow to act, Matthews abandoned the idea of playing professional baseball. He enrolled into law school at Boston University. He would later represent Marcus Garvey and serve President Calvin Coolidge in the Justice Department as a Senior United States Attorney General. Until the appointment of Eric Holder by President Barack Obama in 2008, he was the highest ranking black person to ever serve in the Justice Department.

Since that maiden 1894 season, Tuskegee’s football program closed out the 2014 season with 637 wins under its belt. Their nearest competitor is Grambling University with 535 wins. Ironically, Grambling University was founded in 1901 by  Charles P. Adams, son of Lewis Adams, who founded Tuskegee University in 1881.

On a recent visit to the College Football Hall of Fame, I pointed out a video presentation to a visitor of the Hall and said, “Here is the winningest black college football team in history.”

The other person replied, “Who is that, Grambling.”

“No,” I replied, “Tuskegee!”

“I would have thought that Grambling would have won the most given all those games won by Eddie Robinson,” he said.

It is easy to see how this gentleman could be mistaken over this fact, because the HOF honors both Eddie Robinson who coached at Grambling and Jake Gaither who coached at Florida A&M.

However, there is not a display of the exploits of Cleveland “Cleve” Leigh  Abbott, the Tuskegee Coach who amassed 202 wins from 1923-1954. Coach Abbott is the dean of black college football coaches. He won national championships in 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1929, and 1930.

Cleve Abbott owned black college football between 1923 and 1930.  During this time period, he won six national championships and had six undefeated seasons.

Cleve Abbott owned black college football between 1923 and 1930. During this time period, he won six national championships and had six undefeated seasons.

According to Kristin Couch, spokesperson for the College Football Hall of Fame, “This February we’ve featured HBCUs as our Helmets of the Week in honor of Black History Month. The Hall of Fame has a great display on the history of HBCU football and artifacts from many of the schools including Tuskegee.”

“When you enter the College Football Hall of Fame and Chick-fil-A Fan Experience, you are greeted by the Helmet Wall Presented by Southwest Airlines, featuring helmets from  every Div. I, II, III and NAIA school that has a football team – 768 helmets! When visitors register their entry badge and choose their school, their helmet lights up on the wall. At the end of the day, the wall is lit with helmets from schools all over the country. It’s really a sight to see,” Couch said.

 

Harold Michael Harvey, JD, is the author of the legal thriller “Paper Puzzle,” available at Amazon and at haroldmichaelharvey.com. He can be contacted at hmharvey@haroldmichaelharvey.com