The History of JCSU Football

Well it’s football season again, and the Golden Bulls are taking the field for their 124th season on the gridiron.  The first Biddle University team was organized in 1890, when a group of interested men on campus organized a team led by captain L.B. Ellerson.  Two years later football became the first major sport at Biddle, and nearby Livingstone College and their own newly formed team was challenged to a game.  In what would become an historic day, December 27, 1892, the two teams played the first football contest between two black colleges, which Biddle won 5-0.  I know that’s more like a baseball score, but that’s not a misprint; the scoring was a bit different back then.  The teams played two 45 minute halves on the snowy front lawn of Livingstone’s campus in Salisbury, and hundreds of spectators traveled on foot, by horse, and by mule and wagon to see the match.  Biddle scored the first touchdown (worth five points) and was attempting to score another when they fumbled the ball. A Livingstone player scooped up the ball and ran for a touchdown, but the Biddle team argued that the ball was already out of bounds and that the falling snow had covered the field’s markings. The referee, who was also somehow the coach of the Livingstone team, agreed with the visitors and Biddle held on to win.  The Livingstone player who recovered the (non) fumble was William J. Trent,  who went on to become the president of Livingstone for 33 years and had the school’s gymnasium named after him.

Football_team_by_Carnegie_Hall_1913The 1913 Biddle team

The football program was banned at Biddle soon after, because it was deemed too rough of a sport.  In 1911, the students petitioned faculty to lift the ban, and in 1912 the football competition between Biddle and Livingstone was renewed. The game was played in November and became an annual event known as the Turkey Day Classic, renamed the Commemorative Classic in 2009.  We had some pretty good teams in those years; the 1916 squad not only finished the season undefeated, but didn’t allow any teams to score on them.  1916 was also the first time that the Biddle team was called the Golden Bulls; Benjamin Harris, a student in the class of 1917, sketched the first bull mascot that year.

Football_team_in_front_of_Carnegie_Hall_1917 The undefeated 1916 Biddle team 

The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) was organized in 1912 with Hampton, Howard, Lincoln, Shaw, and Virginia Union as charter members, and Biddle (by then Johnson C. Smith) did not join until 1928.  On November 25, 1938, the Golden Bulls clinched the championship in the North Carolina Intercollegiate Athletic Association by beating the North Carolina A&T Aggies 18-12.  Coached by Eddie Jackson, that year’s team featured talented freshmen Kenny Powell, Jack Brayboy, and Choo-Choo Jackson.  In an era where football players had amazing nicknames, “Choo-Choo” wasn’t alone.  The list of Biddle players from around this time includes “Turkey” Russell, “Gums” Baker, “Bruiser” Malone, and “Jackhammer” Brooks.


“Jackhammer Brooks”, “Sugar” Dowling, Eddie McGirt, and Kenny Powell 

The first JCSU player to turn professional was tight end Pettis Norman, who graduated from Smith in 1962 and was drafted by the AFL’s Dallas Texans in the 16th round.  Norman opted to play for the nearby Dallas Cowboys instead, and manned the tight end position for them for more than a decade.  Known for his toughness and blocking, he started in Super Bowl V and split time with fellow tight end Mike Ditka when he joined the team in 1969.  Norman began the tradition of great Cowboys tight ends that continues to this day, and in 1977 he was inducted into the CIAA Hall of Fame.

Another player inducted that year was Eddie McGirt, who went from being an all-CIAA fullback under Coach Eddie Jackson in the 1940’s to head coach of the Golden Bulls from 1959-1977.  Coach McGirt, affectionately known as “Cut,” is credited with lifting the struggling Bulls to a respectable season in his first year, and for the rest of his tenure  JCSU ranked near the top of the CIAA standings.  He retired having won 118 of 191 games at Smith, and even coached the university’s basketball team from 1959 to 1962. His teams won one championship and two divisional championships, and were runners-up twice.

When the Golden Bulls take the field now, they are continuing a rich tradition of great teams that have been a part of history. We won the very first black college football game, and hopefully we will keep winning!




On the Block

JCSU students have always gathered on the Block between Biddle Hall, the Library, and the Student Union.  Before those last two buildings were even though of, students still naturally congregated outside of Biddle in what has always been the central point of campus.  We’re not sure exactly what year this photograph was taken, but my guess is very early in the 1900’s.  



Welcome back JCSU!!!

The 2014-2015 school year is almost upon us, and JCSU students are moving into their dorms.  Time to start making your room feel like home, so you can study and practice your karate! This photo from the Inez Moore Parker archives is not dated, but i’m going to take a shot and guess it was in the 1970’s.  Welcome back JCSU!  Students_in_a_dorm_room

Welcome to Golden Legacies: The JCSU Archives and History Blog!

As the archivist for Johnson C. Smith University, I decided that not enough students, prospective students, former students, faculty, and local Charlotteans knew the rich history of our institution.  I thought about doing a physical newsletter for the archives, but a blog seems to be best way to get this information out there so it will actually be seen and spread around.  Even a die-hard archivist like myself has to admit that physical news and information that you hold in your hand might not be the best way to reach people nowadays.  Instead I thought I would use this blog to try and get people interested in Smith’s history to make to the trip to our archives to see what we have, and to tell the stories that made Smith what it is today.

For the first post on the blog, i’d like to talk about a great lady who felt the same way that i do about preserving Smith’s history.. and without her, it would probably all be lost.  Thankfully Inez Moore Parker, who taught English here at Smith, decided to save the documents, photographs, and artifacts that could help tell the story of the school and we are eternally grateful for her.  So much so, in fact, that the James B. Duke Memorial Library decided to name their archives after her.


Mrs. Inez Moore Parker was born in 1907 in El Dorado, AR, and earned a Master of Arts Degree from the University of Michigan in 1936 after obtaining her BA from Virginia Union University in Richmond, VA.  Her teaching career began at the Mary Potter School in Oxford, NC as an English instructor from 1933 to 1935, and she was soon commissioned to chair the Mary Allen Junior College in Crockett, TX.  She served in that position for six years, providing services to the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  Mrs. Parker was also appointed chairman of the English Department at Knoxville College in Knoxville, TN from 1942-1944.   She also did advanced studies at the University of Iowa, the University of Michigan, and Columbia University.

In 1944, Mrs. Parker became an English instructor at Johnson C. Smith University, and chaired the department until her tenure in 1970. While at Smith she became interested in recording the history of the university, and began her research by seeking documents and photographs covering the history of the university.  Unfortunately, she discovered that the university’s records created prior to 1900 had been destroyed in several fires, and instead she successfully attempted to obtain materials for the collection by contacting people associated with the university, such as trustees and staff members.  Mrs. Parker used the materials she collected to write a book, The Biddle-Johnson C. Smith University Story, which was published in 1975.   That same year, she developed the Black Culture Center on the campus of Johnson C. Smith  to collect and preserve the records of Johnson C. Smith University and other documents by local African Americans and the Black Presbyterian Church. Materials she gathered from her research to publish the “The Biddle-Johnson C. Smith University Story” as well as her second book “The Rise and Decline of the Program of Education For Black Presbyterians of the United Presbyterian Church U.S. A., 1865-1970,” became the nucleus of the Black Culture Center.


On November 4, 1977, the Center officially became the Inez Moore Parker Archives and Research Center, and was dedicated in honor of her great work to preserve the history of the African American experience and the history of the university.  This day marked the official establishment of an archives for the specific purpose of organizing and preserving the historical records and materials of Johnson C. Smith University, and to this day we are greatly in Mrs. Parker’s debt.   She died in 1984, leaving a lasting legacy of devotion to scholarship and a passion for history and education.  She has one daughter, Mrs. Amelia Parker, who still brings flowers to the archives every year on her mother’s birthday.  I’ve always thought that was such a neat gesture, and I always try to keep those flowers alive as long as I can.  Even when they die, however, all you have to do to bring Inez Moore Parker into your mind again, is to stroll through the archives and see the walls full of Johnson C. Smith University’s history, the history that she kept alive for us.