The Razorbacks liked 'em slow and white in the old days 

Too fast for Fayetteville.

Razorback fans have noted with displeasure that a fair number of the state's best high school football players are going off to play college football at Auburn University in Alabama. Most of these players are black. Fans of a certain age — that is, old — can put this development in painful perspective. They remember when all the best black players left the state.

That was when Southern football was segregated, when blacks and whites didn't play on the same team, or even against each other, high school or college. Arkansas's black players didn't go to Auburn in those days, of course. Football was as lily-white in Alabama as it was in Arkansas, if not whiter. Instead, they headed north, to lands of opportunity.

Wikipedia can be wrong, or at least misleading. It says of Jim Pace, "Although he was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Pace was raised in Grand Rapids, Mich. In high school, Pace was a football and track star from 1950-54. In track he ran a time of 9.6 seconds in the 100-yard-dash at Dunbar High School."

Pace may have spent some time in Grand Rapids, but the Dunbar High School where he starred in football and track was the one in Little Rock, an all-black school in an era when the schools were segregated by race. A time of 9.6 for a high schooler in 1957 would have been phenomenal, no matter where it was run. We can safely assume that no white Arkansas high-school sprinters were matching it.

Wikipedia got right the high points of Pace's football career at the University of Michigan, where he enrolled after graduating from Dunbar. He played there in 1955 through 1957 (freshmen were ineligible then). In 1957, he became Michigan's first black All-American. He was awarded the Chicago Tribune Silver Football as the Most Valuable Player in the Big Ten Conference. In the 1957 Michigan-Ohio State game, Pace rushed for 164 yards, a record to that time for a Michigan runner against Ohio State. On the track, he won the Big Ten's 60-yard-indoor-dash title.

Nineteen fifty-seven was a big year in Pace's hometown too, though not a happy one. After a federal court ordered that black pupils be admitted to the all-white Central High School, Gov. Orval Faubus called out the National Guard to prevent integration. President Dwight D. Eisenhower trumped Faubus by sending in the U.S. Army to enforce the court order. Integration was accomplished, but federal troops stayed in Little Rock the whole school year, to make sure it stuck. Nerves were on edge, even as Pace was invited back to Little Rock for a parade and banquet in his honor.

It was a furtive sort of parade, avoiding Main Street, where the big stores and most of the people were, for a brief spin through black neighborhoods. Two daily newspapers and three TV stations operated in Little Rock then, but a reporter and a photographer from the now-deceased Arkansas Gazette provided the only mainstream media coverage of Jim Pace's big day. The reporter was Jim Bailey, who still writes a sports column, now for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

The parade and a banquet for Pace were held Dec. 30, 1957. In an article published the next day, Bailey preserved words spoken by Pace during an interview with a radio disc jockey: "First, I want to thank the wonderful people who turned out to welcome me home. It's a wonderful experience I'll never forget. I want you to know I'm the same Jim Pace who graduated from Dunbar and went out to make people proud of me."

Bailey wrote that a number of major football schools were interested in Pace after he had a great season against other black high school players in 1953. "Coincidentally, that was the year J.C. Caroline, an unheralded soph from South Carolina, rewrote some of Red Grange's rushing records at Illinois, and touched off a Big Ten talent hunt for Southern Negro players."


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