|1956 Sugar Bowl|
|Date||January 2, 1956|
|Location||New Orleans, Louisiana|
|United States TV coverage|
|Announcers||Ray Scott, Bill Stern|
The 1956 Sugar Bowl featured the 7th ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and the 11th ranked Pittsburgh Panthers. The game was played on January 2, since New Year's Day was a Sunday. Much controversy preceded the 1956 Sugar Bowl. Segregationists tried to keep Bobby Grier from playing because he was black. Ultimately, Bobby Grier played making this the first integrated Sugar Bowl and is regarded as the first integrated bowl game in the Deep South.
Pittsburgh's linebacker, Bobby Grier, was black. Many segregationists in New Orleans fought to bar him from playing. This stood in stark contrast to the 1956 Rose Bowl, which featured two of the most racially integrated college football teams of the day with six African American players for the UCLA Bruins and seven for the Michigan State Spartans.
Georgia governor Marvin Griffin opposed integration and pressured Blake R Van Leer to withdraw Georgia Tech from the game. On December 2 1955 (the day after Rosa Parks began her Montgomery bus boycott) he publicly sent a telegram to his state's Board Of Regents imploring that teams from Georgia not engage in racially integrated events which had Blacks either as participants or in the stands. It read:
The South stands at Armageddon. The battle is joined. We cannot make the slightest concession to the enemy in this dark and lamentable hour of struggle. There is no more difference in compromising integrity of race on the playing field than in doing so in the classrooms. One break in the dike and the relentless enemy will rush in and destroy us.
Governor Griffin threatened to fire Van Leer, who was already catching heat for allowing women into Georgia Tech. Van Leer threatened to resign, and would later receive a standing ovation for standing up to Griffin. Van Leer would die from a heart attack two weeks after the game. 
In July 1956, the Louisiana state legislature passed Act 579, known as the Athletic Events Bill, which prohibited interracial sports competitions. Governor Earl Long signed it on July 16. It said, in part:
All persons, firms and corporations are prohibited from sponsoring, arranging, participating in, or permitting on premises under their control any dancing, social functions, entertainments, athletic training, games, sports or contests and other such activities involving personal and social contacts, in which the participants or contestants are members of the white and negro races.
However, students and football players from the Atlanta-based school, civil rights leaders, as well as a large number of the Pitt community succeeded in seeing Grier take to the gridiron that January day. Act 579 was formally overturned by federal courts 2 years later.
The game was a high caliber defensive game. The two teams gave up a combined 7 points, on 453 combined yards. The only score of the game came on a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Wade Mitchell. Georgia Tech was held without any points the remaining three quarters of the game, and ended up winning by a 7-0 margin. Pittsburgh, despite dominating the game in terms of yardage (311-142) lost because of 2 lost fumbles, and 72 penalty yards.
The margin of victory mostly resulted from a disputed first quarter pass interference penalty which was called on Grier by a Southeastern Conference official.
Georgia Tech guard Franklin Brooks was named the game's MVP. Bobby Grier's participation in the 1956 Sugar Bowl, as well as the support he received from various communities, is seen by some experts as a milestone in American race relations.
Brooks went on to have a successful coaching career after a brief stint with the Washington Redskins. Brooks coached at the high school level before returning to Georgia Tech as an assistant coach under Pepper Rodgers. Excelling as an assistant coach, Brooks was poised to become Rogers' replacement but was untimely stricken with inoperable lung cancer.
Brooks was a non-smoker and non-drinker. According to doctor's reports, he developed cancer as a result of exposure to asbestos during a summer job as a teen. Despite his courageous fight over a two-year period, Brooks died in 1977. Among friends and family, Brooks' funeral procession included College and Pro Football greats such as Eddie Lee Ivery and Bill Curry.
Brooks' struggles with cancer contributed to reform and ultimately the elimination of unsafe asbestos production. Governments and businesses all around the world have urgently taken measures to eliminate structures containing asbestos over the last twenty five years.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to 1956 Sugar Bowl.|
- Thamel, Pete (2006-01-01). "Grier Integrated a Game and Earned the World's Respect". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-04-15.
- MICHIGAN STATE VS. UCLA JET'S ROSE BOWL PREVIEW * * *. Jet Magazine, December 1955, Quote:"A record number of Negro football players-13-are eligible for the 42nd annual Rose Bowl game to be played by Michigan State and UCLA on January 2."
- Smith, John Matthew - "Breaking the Plane": Integration and Black Protest in Michigan State University Football during the 1960s Archived February 14, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. The Michigan Historical Review Vol. 33, Issue 2.
- Mulé, Marty - A Time For Change: Bobby Grier And The 1956 Sugar Bowl Archived 2007-06-10 at the Wayback Machine. Black Athlete Sports Network, December 28, 2005
- *Zeise, Paul - Bobby Grier broke bowl's color line. The Panthers' Bobby Grier was the first African-American to play in Sugar Bowl Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 07, 2005
- Thamel, Pete - Grier Integrated a Game and Earned the World's Respect. New York Times, Published: January 1, 2006.
- Maisel, Ivan (February 26, 2019). "'The South Stands at Armageddon': Breaking the Sugar Bowl color barrier". ESPN. Retrieved 2019-03-03.
- Jake Grantl (2019-11-14). "Rearview Revisited: Segregation and the Sugar Bowl". Georgia Tech. Retrieved 2019-11-14.
- Reynard, Charles (December 1956). "Legislation Affecting Segregation". Louisiana Law Review. 17 (1). Retrieved August 6, 2020.
- Hebert, Mary Jacqueline (1999). "Beyond Black and White: the Civil Rights Movement in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1945-1972". LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses: 138. ISBN 9780599548664.
- Kemper, Kurt Edward. College Football and American Culture in the Cold War Era. p. 223.
- "Long Signs Bill to Ban Mixed Athletic Contests in State". Morning Advocate. July 17, 1956.
- Fitzpatrick, Frank (April 10, 2015). "HISTORY LESSON: 1956 SUGAR BOWL ANOTHER COLLISION OF CIVIL RIGHTS AND BASKETBALL". Daytona Times. Retrieved August 6, 2020.
- Pennington, Bill (March 14, 2012). "In 1956, a Racial Law Repelled Harvard's Team".
- Dorsey v. State Athletic Commission, 168 F. Supp. 149 (E.D. La. Nov 28, 1958).