- Thursday Night Lights: The Story of a Black High School in Texas by Michael Hurd
Within a fifty-year period, from 1920 to 1970, the Prairie View Interscholastic League (PVIL) oversaw competitive sporting events that pitted black high schools in Texas against one another. The league maintained schedules, venues, and, eventually, the path for crowning bracketed-based state champions. In Thursday Night Lights, journalist Michael Hurd traces the organization’s origins, its struggles and successes within the Jim Crow era, the individuals associated with the PVIL, and the crushing defeat brought on by desegregation. Historiographically speaking, Hurd seeks to bring the personal history of a forgotten league to the forefront in order to explain the excellence and importance of pre-Brown decision black athletes and coaches and, secondly and perhaps unintentionally, to provide a more personal view of desegregation through the lens of segregated high school football played on days other than Fridays. [End Page 377]
Segregation spawned the necessity for not playing at the end of school weeks: “Friday night lights? That’s [for] white folks” (5). Since many of these unequal schools could not afford their own stadiums, they shared with other all-black schools, and sometimes with white ones. In spite of such limitations, many schools, athletes, and coaches rose to prominence, and others reached a quasi-myth-like persona. Fans, including the author, always attended their schools’ local games, and such competition attracted whites as well. This provided, at times, a bending of Jim Crowism, but such was the nature of sports.
Among the themes that ties Thursday Night Lights together is victory. People have often said that history is written by, or about, winners, and this monograph seemingly concurs. The historian places much emphasis on key officials in the league’s formation (chapter 1), the best players (chapter 2), coaches (chapter 3), schools (chapter 4), and rivalry (chapter 5). Missing are the average programs and people who participated in the PVIL, although the lack of sources are likely to blame. When formerly all-black schools began to desegregate, largely covered in chapter 6, much of the materials within buildings filled many dumpsters; later, the structures eventually came down. Hurd’s chapter on this, “The Good, the Bad, the End,” mislabels the process as integration rather than desegregation but adequately demonstrates the horrors unwittingly spawned by the Brown decision. Here, the journalist takes what is largely interpreted as a victory and shifts the paradigm to examine what became of the schools and coaches, so important a part of the black community. There was little regard to what was left behind because winning mattered more. For example, white coaches recruited black athletes to their schools and exclaimed with much pride, “I got me one” (186). For this, and other reasons, the author faced an uphill battle when researching and writing this book.
Thursday Night Lights provides a wealth of information regarding “the PVIL: what it was, why and how it came to be, [and] why and how it came to an end” (7). One major issue with this book, however, rests on how Hurd presents this information. The front matter claims that this book is built on “interviews, newspaper stories, and memorabilia,” but it is not always clear, particularly with oral histories, when the information was obtained and who was involved with each interview. Moreover, such vital information is not included in the bibliography. Another problem centers on the book’s organization, as it focuses more on people and places rather than on giving a clear chronological progression of the half century. Despite this, Hurd offers a name and face (forty-nine photos) to some athletes who thrived during, or at the end of, segregation.
Placing meticulous emphasis on the role that football played in the PVIL, the communities, the state, and beyond, Hurd produces a work built, by no fault of his own, upon the slimmest of resources. His simple yet masterful prose manages to captivate the historian of sport, race, or Texas, as...