Beginning in the late 1930s, well before Jackie Robinson became the first black baseball player in big-league baseball in more than six decades, he was among five African-American athletes who brought national attention to UCLA’s pioneering efforts to integrate major college sports. At the time, very few major colleges had black players on their rosters. “The Black Bruins” not only shines a light on their considerable athletic achievements in several sports but also examines their successes in adult life. Robinson became a leader in the civil rights movement. Kenny Washington and Woody Strode led efforts to bring African-Americans into the National Football League after the war. Washington became a Los Angeles police officer and actor. Strode landed roles in 57 feature films. Ray Bartlett, a four-sport star, became only the second black on the Pasadena police department. And Tom Bradley, who ran track for the Bruins, later was elected mayor of LA.
Here’s an excerpt from The Black Bruins:
“During the years before Washington, Strode, Robinson, and Bartlett joined the Bruins, the UCLA athletic program had accumulated a net loss of $249,187 for all sports. But football was the biggest revenue producer, and those revenues soared from 1936 to 1940. That’s not to say that revenues rose dramatically because of the black players alone but because of the better teams on which they played a major role. Certainly their exciting athletic ability proved a huge drawing card. Woody Strode remembered minorities flocked to the UCLA football games because of the African American players: ‘If we drew one hundred thousand people to the Coliseum, 40,000 of them would be black; that was about every black person in the city of Los Angeles. We received a lot of attention from the press and that added to our exposure.’ ”