The history of the University of Notre Dame would not be complete without chronicling the obstacles, struggles, and triumphs of the African-American student-athlete. Beginning with Frazier Thompson (’47), Black student-athletes have exemplified achievement in the classroom and excellence on the playing field.
What follows below is only a brief recitation of who we are and the role we have played in shaping Notre Dame. It is admittedly incomplete; we have not yet found some information. And we apologize for any major omissions or misstatements. Nevertheless, we hope this outline begins a dialogue. Let us hear from you – – who you are and what you experienced.
This is Our Story. Help us write it for posterity.
Black Student-Athletes and Notre Dame History:
Context, People & Moments
1842 – The University of Notre Dame is founded by Father Edward Sorin, CSC.
- 1938 – The university employs its first African-American, William Henry Alexander, who begins as a porter in a residence hall. Although there is some resistance and resentment, Alexander has the full support of Father Leonard Carrico, the director of studies.
- July 1944 – Frazier Thompson (’47) enrolls at Notre Dame under the Navy’s V-12 training program. According to a young priest named Theodore Hesburgh who wanted to see the enrollee succeed, Thompson perhaps was mistakenly admitted because his name did not suggest his race. When Thompson joins the track team and letters, he becomes the first Black monogram winner of the University.
- April 1947 – Jackie Robinson is called up by the Brooklyn Dodgers and thereby breaks baseball’s color line implemented in the 1880s.
- 1947 – Frazier Thompson graduates with a degree in pre-professional studies. [Note: That same year, Edward B. Williams, also an African-American, graduates from Notre Dame’s school of journalism.]
- 1949 – The first Black student-athlete ever to try out for the football team is Aaron W. Dyson, an ex-GI from Indianola, Mississippi. Dyson regards Coach Frank Leahy as “the greatest gentleman he’s ever met.”
- 1952 – Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh becomes the 15th president of the University. [Note: In 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower would appoint him to the then newly formed Civil Rights Commission.]
- 1952 – Sophomore guards Joseph Bertrand (’54) and Entee Shine become the first Blacks to play on the men’s basketball team. Bertrand would go on to earn a degree from the University. Shine later would transfer to Tennessee State.
- 1953 – Wayne Edmonds (’56) becomes the first Black student-athlete to earn a monogram on the football team. He and Richard Washington are the first Black student-athletes to actually play in a game. Both young men would go on to be part of the 1953 team that went undefeated and was named national champion in several polls.
- 1953 – During the 1953 season, Georgia Tech refuses to host Notre Dame for a home game, because Black players, Edmonds and Washington, are on the team. The game is moved to South Bend.
- 1954 – The U.S. Supreme Court decides, in Brown v. Bd. of Education, that “separate but equal” educational facilities, in the context of race, are unconstitutional.
- 1956 – As reported in Scholastic, a campus publication, several Notre Dame students protest after Donald Gothard (’56), a Black senior majoring in electrical engineering, is refused service. The students leave the bar. An editorial in Scholastic recommends that no students patronize the bar in the future.
- 1957 – On the football team, Aubrey Lewis becomes the first African-American student-athlete to serve as a captain for any Irish varsity sport.
- 1958 – Excelling in basketball, Tom Hawkins (’59) becomes the first Black All-American at Notre Dame.
- 1965 – Dick Arrington becomes one of only four student-athletes in school history to be named an All-American in two sports: football and wrestling.
- Years later, football and track standout Raghib “Rocket” Ismail (’94) would become the fourth.
- November 1966 – At the pep rally before the Michigan State game, billed as the “game of the century,” Notre Dame students hang in effigy (as they had done other opponents) Michigan State’s star player Charles “Bubba” Smith. But there also is a sign stating “Lynch ‘Em”.
- At the game itself, MSU starts twelve Black players; Notre Dame has only one: Alan Page (’67), later a consensus All-American.
- 1968 – Irish sprinter William Hurd (’69), at the United States Olympic trials for track and field, comes in fifth in the 100 meters, narrowly missing be named to a sprint team that would include Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Mexico City Olympics.
- For the 1967-68 academic year, Hurd is named Notre Dame’s “Athlete of the Year.”
- February 1969 – Black players on the basketball team protest after Michigan State students boo the players for supporting the protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Mexico City games.
- 1969 – The University reverses its 45-year-old policy of not accepting bowl invitations. One of the reasons for the reversal: bowl proceeds would now be used to fund a scholarship program for minority students.
- 1971 – Austin Carr (’71), a guard on the men’s basketball team, is named Naismith College Player of the Year.
- 1971 – Cliff Brown, under Coach Ara Parseghian, becomes the first Black quarterback at the University of Notre Dame. He splits time with two other quarterbacks that season.
- 1972 – The University begins admitting female students.
- 1972 – With a cumulative GPA of 3.6, football great Tom Gatewood (’72) is one of only 20 Irish student-athletes ever to receive All-America, Academic All-America, and NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship honors.
- 1973 – Black players on Notre Dame’s football team are requested by the NAACP not to participate in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. After internal deliberation and discussion with various civic leaders, the players decide to play.
- 1976 – As leading scorer on the USA men’s basketball team, Adrian Dantley (’76) helps the team win a gold medal in the Montreal summer Olympics.
- October 1985 – Father Theodore Hesburgh, President of the University, invites 25 Black alumni to campus to discuss the state of Black alumni affairs and engagement with the school. From this three-day meeting, the Black Alumni of Notre Dame is created.
- 1986 – The admission of freshman quarterback Tony Rice (’90) is publicly debated in the student newspaper, The Observer, because his test scores place him under the constraints of Proposition 48. Rice sits out his freshman year.
- Rice later would graduate with a degree in Psychology.
- 1987 – Under Coach Lou Holtz, Tony Rice becomes the face of Irish football. In the 1988-89 season, he would go on to lead the team to a national championship in the Fiesta Bowl against West Virginia.
- 1988 – Tim Brown (’88), wide receiver, becomes the school’s 7th recipient of the Heisman Trophy, and its first Black recipient.
- 1990 – Dave Duerson (football, ’83) becomes the first African-American honored with the Notre Dame Monogram Club’s highest award, the Moose Krause Award, for outstanding community service.
- Three other Black student-athlete alumni have received the award: William Hurd, Chris Zorich (’91), and Jerome Bettis.
- 1990 – Winning the 1990 NCAA title for epee, Jubba Beshin becomes one of only 11 Irish male fencers to hold an NCAA individual fencing title.
- 1999 – As the last line of defense, goalkeeper Lakeysia Beene (’05) protects the net as the Irish women’s soccer team advances to play in the NCAA title game.
- 1999 – Michael Brown (’01), selected to be the next football season’s leprechaun, becomes the first African-American to serve as the University’s mascot at varsity sporting events. He does so for the 2000 and ’01 seasons. A leprechaun had become the school’s official mascot in the mid-1960s.
- 2001 – Point guard Niele Ivey (’00) guides the women’s basketball team to its first and only national championship.
- January 2002 – Coach Tyrone Willingham becomes the school’s first African-American head coach of any varsity sport. He later is named by ESPN and several other organizations as “Coach of the Year.”
- 2003 – Dave Duerson, a University trustee, becomes the first Black president of the Monogram Club.
- 2004 – Shannon Boxx (’99) helps lead the USA women’s soccer team to a gold medal in the Olympics held in 2004.
- March 2004 – In a radio interview, former Irish and NFL standout Paul Hornung states that Notre Dame should lower its academic standards to recruit more Black student-athletes. “We must get the black athlete if we’re going to compete.” After public outcry, Hornung is removed as a radio announcer for Irish games.
- May 2004 – As a United States soldier in Baghdad, Iraq, former Irish basketball star Danielle Green (’99) is severely injured by a rocket-propelled grenade. Her sacrifice for her country receives national attention. Green becomes the second U.S. woman ever to lose a limb during war. She later receives the Purple Heart.
- November 2004 – Coach Tyrone Willingham is fired, after posting an overall record of 21-15, with regular season records of 10-2 (2002), 5-7 (2003), and 6-5 (2004).
- 2006 – University trustee Phyllis Stone (cheerleader, ’80) and her husband Jim (football ’81) pledge $100,000 to fund the James and Phyllis Stone Endowment for Excellence in Africana Studies.
- 2007 – A double major (sociology and computer applications), sprinter Maryann Erigha (’07) receives the Kanaley Award, the University’s highest student-athlete honor, in recognition of her leadership and scholastic achievement (3.83 cumulative GPA).
- Erigha thereby joins a distinguished group that includes another All-American sprinter and academic star (3.71 cumulative GPA), Errol Williams (’98).
- 2007 – A former Irish basketball star and later a graduate of Notre Dame’s law school, Coquese Washington (’92) becomes the first African-American head coach in any women’s sport at Penn State.
- August 2008 – Three Black former Irish student-athletes compete in the Beijing Olympic games: Shannon Boxx (soccer, USA), Candace Chapman (soccer, Canada), and Selim Nurudeen (track, Nigeria) (’05).
- C.Chapman scores Canada’s first ever Olympic goal.
- S.Boxx helps lead the US team to a gold medal.
- October 2008 – An NCAA report ranks Notre Dame first in graduation rate for African-American student-athletes (84%) at Division I schools.
- At Div. I schools with top 20 endowments, Notre Dame ranks second in percentage of Black male undergraduates who are athletes (32%) and second in percentage of Black male undergraduates who are football players (26%).