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2011 Black History Month Feature - The 1905 Alfred Johnson Debate
Rocky Mountain News- Front Page - October 8, 1905
The following story is copied word-for-word from the October 8, 1905 Rocky
Mountain News and features the front-page story of the Colorado Aggies and the
objection of the University of Denver's Coach Ora Smith Fowler of playing a black
athlete. The words are raw and straight out of an entirely different period in
American history, but it gives insight to how schools dealt with inter-racial athletics.
Although this story is told in Aggies to Rams, this is the first time it has been
published in its entirety since 1905.

Denver University Will Not Stand for Colored Men in Football Games

Fort Collins, Colo., Oct. 7 – The color question came near disrupting relations
between the various colleges of the state today, when, on the lineup for football,
Denver university found a colored man playing on the team of the State Agricultural
College.

The Denver contingent at one raised objections. The white men from Denver refused
to play against the Aggies with a “cloud” on their team. They would confront no team
with a black man on it. The Aggies insisted that they had a right to play a black man
so long as it was a “practice” game. [Note: This game was later counted as an official
game and not a practice game.]

With the tentative understanding that the Aggies would not insist upon playing the
negro when it came to professional games the Denver university team went to the line.
The Intercollegiate Athletic association comprises all the more important colleges and
universities of the state. Denver university, which drew the color line, is a sectarian
school of the Methodist denomination. This faith has always professed the utmost
liberality in social matters and consequently the event has caused a stir, not only
among college men, but also among churchmen.

Paradoxical as it may seem, a Southerner, as captain of the Aggies, stood for the
negro, and a Northerner, a captain of the D.U.’s, opposed.
Alfred Johnson - 1905: Very little is known about the
first black athlete in Colorado Sate University history.
We do know that he was a sub-freshman who played
left tackle for the Colorado Aggies football team in
1905 and 1906. When he lined up against the
University of Denver on October 7, 1905, it created a
debate among all area colleges and universities over
the playing of black athletes in intercollegiate sports.
Lucius W. Hoyt, Chairman Athletic Board of Denver University
A definite verbal agreement was reached at the annual meeting of the
Intercollegiate league last winter to the effect that no attempt would be
made to play colored men on athletic teams. The matter should be
handled diplomatically, but Denver university faculty has no personal
feeling in the matter.

Professor Alderson, President School of Mines – My personal
feeling in the matter is that no color line should be drawn in football. It
is unfortunate that the question should have been raised, and I trust that
the incident will not be magnified into anything of much importance.
We should ignore the question entirely.

Coach Fowler of Denver university, who has very decided views
upon the subject, expressed himself as follows
: “I am opposed to
playing a negro. Football is a white man’s game. Negroes on football
teams have caused needless squabbles, and we should keep peace in the
family by drawing the color line. As a matter of fact, at the
intercollegiate meeting last February the color line was drawn, with
provision that a player at Colorado college be allowed to finish his four
years.”  [Note: Colorado College fielded the first black athletes in state
history in 1904.]

Coach McIntosh of the Agricultural college states his views in the
following language
: “We did not vote to draw the color line, and the
secretary’s minutes will confirm this. A motion to that effect was voted
down. We did vote unanimously that the playing of negroes was a
source of discord and they should not be encouraged to play. The
Colorado Agricultural college, however, is a state and national
institution, and as such cannot bar anyone from class or club. [Alfred]
Johnson is making a good record, and if he does make good and insists
on playing I do not see how anyone can keep him from doing so.
Johnson came without solicitation and appeared for practice without an
invitation. The other members of the squad objected to playing with a
colored man, but, being loyal to the school, voted to abide by existing
conditions. If Johnson proves to be a better tackler than anyone else he
will be played in that position if no rule is made, and we will appear on
the field with him, and the other fellow will either play there or forfeit.”

G.C. Ripley, Manager School of Mines Team – I understand that five
or six members of our team object personally to playing against colored
men. No action has been taken.

President W.F. Slocum of Colorado college – Colored men are used
in Colorado college athletics whenever they prove their merit. They
have played on our football team, and where they show ability in that or
any other line they will be recognized. Colorado college is open to
students of all colors and races.

B. O. Aylesworth, President Agricultural College – This is a state
institution, and under the constitution it cannot draw the color line. The
Agricultural college receives support both from the state and national
government, and as the constitution makes no distinction neither can the
college.

President Baker, University of Colorado, says: Our school is not
mixed up in the affair, as at present we do not belong to the
Intercollegiate Athletic association. Therefore I do not feel called upon
to state my views. [Note: The University of Colorado withdrew from
the conference in late 1904 over a dispute regarding the location of a
game played against Stanford on Thanksgiving Day. They also objected
to rules and eligibility of players that the IAAC allowed among its other
schools. CU rejoined the association in 1906.]
What Professors and Students Say on the Question
Lucius W. Hoyt, chairman of the board of athletic control of Denver
university, stated the position of the school last night.
“Denver university did not take the initiative in this matter. It was
brought up at the annual league meeting early in the year, when one of
the other schools objected to the playing of colored men by Colorado
college. The reasons given for the objection, as I remember them, were
simply that many players, particularly those of Southern birth, refused
to play with or against negroes, because of heredity antipathy to the idea
of social equality between whites and blacks
.
“At first a motion was made to bar negroes from all athletic teams of
the league. Upon discussion it was thought that this method of handling
the problem would constitute an unnecessary insult, when none was
meant. To take the place of a motion, a definite verbal agreement was
reached to the effect that no attempt should be made to play colored
men on athletic teams.

The specious arguments advanced by the Aggies to permit them to play
a promising athlete amounts simply to an evasion of this understanding,
which should be just as binding as the one-year rule [Note: This was
rule that required a player to stay at his school for at least one year and
not hop from school to school to prevent professionalism. This was the
most serious issue of the day.] and other eligibility rules until it is
abrogated. We have no personal feeling in the matter, and stand ready to
do whatever the majority of the colleges in the league determine is for
the best interests of all concerned. I am sorry to see that a matter which
could have been handled diplomatically and effectively in a quiet manner
has been given unnecessary publicity, which will not assist much in its
satisfactory solution.”

The objection was settled for the time being by putting the matter up to
Harman, the University of Denver tackle, who was scheduled to play
against [the Aggies’] Johnson. Harman said he had no personal
objection in the matter, providing his opponent played clean football.
After the game Harman declared that in his opinion Johnson had played
the fairest game of anyone on the Aggie squad. The Denver university
authorities, however, gave the Aggies notice that Johnson’s case would
officially have to be passed upon by the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate
Athletic association before he could be played in a championship game
which takes place in Denver in a few weeks.

Now that the question of drawing the color line has come up, it must be
settled definitely without delay. The question is not one of personality,
but of race, according to those interested.
Object to Negro
The 1905 Colorado Agricultural College Aggies - Alfred
Johnson and this group of men took the field against the
University of Denver and created front-page news due to the
issue of race. The Aggies won the game and eventually the
debate over playing black athletes.
Barton O. Aylesworth - President of Colorado Agricultural
College from 1899 to 1909 was a big fan of college athletics
and did not want to see his student barred from playing
football.

Editor's Notes
on the Alfred
Johnson Story
and other
historical facts:

- Newspaper
records show that
Alfred Johnson did
carry the ball in
games during 1905.

- Johnson scored his
only recorded
touchdown in the
November 25, 1905
game against the
University of
Wyoming. It was a
34-5 win for the
Aggies at Durkee
Field.

- William H. Lewis
was the first black
football player
named to an
All-American team
as a player with
Harvard in 1892. He
is also the first black
football player in
collegiate history,
taking the field with
Amherst College in
1889.

- In 1905, President
Theodore Roosevelt
was more concerned
with how brutal the
game of football was
than racial issues in
intercollegiate
athletics. New rules
were instituted in
1906, one being the
legalization of the
forward pass.
Silver Spruce
Silver Spruce
John H. McIntosh - Head coach and athletic director of the
Colorado Agricultural College Aggies was born in Georgia and
played football at the University of Georgia. Being a man of
Southern birth, the newspapers of the day were shocked that he
supported the play of a black athlete on his team.
Silver Spruce
Colorado
State
Today.com
Alfred Johnson was allowed to play the remainder of the 1905
football season and also played for the Aggies in 1906, but saw
limited action due to new head coach Claude Rothgeb bringing
in players from Illinois to act as "ringers". Although there is no
record of a specific rule that banned black athletes in
conference athletics, it was not until 1940 that a black athlete,
Aggies all-time great John Mosley, played for Colorado State in
a varsity football game. In fact, there are no records of any
other black athletes in the Rocky Mountain region that played
between 1907 and 1939.

John McIntosh left the Colorado Aggies after the 1905-06
school year and later coached football at Montana State from
1908 to 1910. His true passion was journalism and he never
coached college football again.

University of Denver coach Ora Smith Fowler quit as coach
after the 1905 football season and never returned to coach
football again. John P. Koehler took over as head coach at DU
in 1906 and won the last two conference championships in the
old Intercollegiate Athletic Association and the first in the Rocky
Mountain Athletic Association. (1907, 1908 and 1909)

Bad blood continued between the Aggies and Pioneers in 1906
as DU accused the Aggies of rough play in their game at Durkee
Field during a driving snowstorm. Johnson did play (Right
Tackle this time) in that 1906 DU game, but no controversy
surrounded his playing in that game.
The Rest of the Story