1970 The next season, Alabama featured two black players, junior college transfer John Mitchell and Wilbur Jackson, who advanced from Alabama's freshmen squad in 1970 to the varsity team the following year. According to Mike Puma's biography of Bryant on ESPN.com, by 1973, one-third of Alabama's starters were black. That same year, Alabama went 9-0-1 and won its third national championship.
Mitchell and Jackson became stars at Alabama under coach Bear Bryant. Both men were drafted by the NFL after their only season with the Crimson Tide, but neither played in the league because of racial divisions within it. Jackson was selected in the first round (eleventh pick) by the Oakland Raiders; Mitchell was picked in the fifth round (forty-fourth selection) by the New York Giants. They were the first black players to be drafted by a National League team.
In October 2007, both players were elected into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. They are the only black players to have been selected in the NFL draft and play for the Crimson Tide.
Mitchell and Wilbur Jackson were the first African-Americans to play football for the Crimson Tide in 1971. During his two seasons at Alabama, he started all 24 games and led the team to a 21-3 record and two Southeastern Conference titles. He finished his career with 1,036 yards on 162 carries (6.4 avg.) with 10 touchdowns.
Wilbur Jackson played one season at Alabama starting nine of 11 games at left guard before suffering an injury that ended his season. He had been recruited by Bo Schembechler's Michigan Wolverines but decided to follow his brother Mitchell to Tuscaloosa instead. Wilbur helped lead the Crimson Tide to their first SEC title in 1972. That year, he started eight of nine games at left guard and was selected by the NFL's Atlanta Falcons as a rookie free agent but never played in a game for them because they lost all their games. He returned for another season with the Falcons in 1973 but missed most of that year with an ankle injury.
Mitchell Jackson went on to have a successful career in the National Football League (NFL) after graduating from Alabama. He played for the Atlanta Falcons for seven seasons and was a three-time All-Pro selection. In 1978, he led the league in tackles with 147 stops while playing for the Los Angeles Rams. He died at age 34 in a car accident.
1971 And he did it. For the first time in school history, Alabama's famed head coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant, awarded a scholarship to a black player the following season, in 1971. For the first time in program history, they also used a black player in a game. The new player was Charles White from Hueytown High School in Hueytown, Alabama. In that game against Tennessee, White received five carries for 26 yards and one catch for six more before being taken out of the game with an injury.
White's appearance on the field for the 1971 game is considered a milestone by many who believe that racial segregation was prevalent in college sports at the time. Although other colleges had already begun to recruit black players, such as Howard University and Morehouse College, none of them were available to play Division I football. As a result, most black athletes were able to play only basketball or baseball.
Charles White went on to play four years for Alabama, graduating in 1975. After leaving school early, he went on to play eight seasons in the NFL with the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions. He died in 2013 at the age of 62.
The year after White signed with Alabama, another black player joined the team. Clarence Sykes Jr. from South Carolina State University played defensive back for the Crimson Tide in 1972. He received two carries for seven yards before being taken out of the game with an injury.