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‘Breaking The Line’ explores black college football’s impact on the Civil Rights Movement

By Hal Lamar | 11/29/2013, 6 a.m.
What does current African American NFL quarterbacks like Michael Vick, Geno Smith, and former great signal callers Doug Williams and ...
Jake Gaither with team. Photo courtesy of Vern Smith.

”He told the Board of Regents, he wanted to play against a white team. They couldn’t refuse him. They owed him too much. They gave their approval but refused to put in the minutes of their meeting,” Freeman said.

Two years after approaching the Regents, he gets that opportunity by scheduling a game with the University of Tampa in November 1969.

Robinson, meanwhile, proves Harris worthy of a look-see by the pros through his performances in the 1967 Orange Blossom Classic and a scheduled game that year with Tennessee State University, He is drafted late in the 1969 draft because, according to Freedman’s book, he refuses  to change positions, a practice then most common by NFL teams. His struggle and stubbornness (which reportedly earned him his nickname Shack for Shadrack, the biblical figure who with his brothers Meshac  and Abidnigo  refused to bow down to King  Nebuknezer).

It pays off. He eventually starts for the LA Rams and spent three years tearing up the NFL and shattering records (Harris is co- founder of the Black College Football Hall of Fame which holds their induction banquet annually in Atlanta).

He also helped Robinson achieve his goal which opened doors for other black quarterbacks, general managers and head coaches in the NFL.

“ Robinson and Gaither’s contributions to civil rights changed a lot of things,” Freedman said. “It gave a lot of us, including me, love. It also changed the country we live in as well.”

Currently, a team of former writers, broadcasters and producers led by retired Newsweek bureau chief Vern Smith of East Point, are working on a movie project of the life of Gaither called “ Agile, Hostile and Mobile”.

Meet the author, watch videos and learn more about the book at www.SimonandShuster.com

Freedman can be reached through his website www.samuelfreedman.com.