- Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Jake Gaither, Florida A&M, and the History of Black College Football by Derrick E. White
The history of black sporting achievement in America is often told through the lens of a handful of legendary racial pioneers, at the expense of the accomplishments of uniquely black cultural institutions. In Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Derrick E. White tells the sporting history of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in general, and HBCU football in particular, in the context of Florida A&M University (FAMU) during the post–World War II period and the school's legendary coach Alonzo "Jake" Gaither, who led the team for twenty-five years in the postwar period through the early years of the civil rights movement until the end of the 1960s.
The book argues that HBCUs were a fundamental connection between higher education and black culture and communities, creating sporting congregations. White describes the congregations as the "network of athletes, administrators, coaches, sportswriters, and fans" (8) that were used by the black community to provide racial uplift and self-determination and to unify the community and achieve success within the broader environment of pervasive segregation and white supremacy. By focusing on congregations and communities created around HBCU football, White shifts the traditional narrative that black sporting pride is solely the product of the unique triumphs of a handful of special athletes who stood out in predominantly white college and professional sporting institutions.
White is a scholar of modern black history, and this book, his third, provides readers with a counterpoint to previous sporting histories that focus on racial pioneers or individuals who stood up to larger cultural institutions, schools, leagues, entire countries—think of Jackie Robinson or Jesse Owens—and who integrated college or professional sports or broke down racial barriers.
Instead, by centering on the importance of sporting congregations as conduits for black athletes to achieve success both through sports and in the professions, White's book provides a necessary new perspective of the history of sporting integration in the United States. HBCU self-determination-style athletic desegregation, according to White, "stood counter to the one where Black athletic talent was individually integrated at the expense of the Black institutions that often helped to produce the talent" (127). This counternarrative focuses on the difficulties faced by HBCUs in championing desegregation throughout the country while simultaneously knowing that integration would result in the loss of the unique qualities and importance of HBCUs to the sporting congregations they represented.
Football in particular suffered as a result of integration, as FAMU and other HBCUs lost their pipeline to top black high-school athletes once high schools began desegregating and predominately white colleges began recruiting athletes of all races. "The desegregationist logic of Brown v. Board of Education," White notes, "argued that material inequalities of Black education spaces trumped the educational value of Black teachers, and in this case [End Page 186] athletics" (102). FAMU and HBCU football represented a powerful space to encourage black self-determination, and the desegregation of schools chipped away at the structural power that HBCUs had within the sporting congregations of the communities they represented.
Paralleling the narrative of HBCUs and sporting congregations, coach Gaither believed that his football program had the power to uplift young black men and instill self-determination within each player. Gaither's coaching philosophy "promoted character development through athletic success, which reflected his coming of age during the period in which Black colleges athletics was expected to produce racial leadership and be in service to communities" (90). He was a strong proponent of black sporting congregations, saying that learning that the strength of ties between a school and the community would determine the long-term success of a football program.
White's book provides a unique perspective on black sporting history and highlights the difficult relationship between HBCUs, Jake Gaither, and the civil rights movement, especially with regard to the coach...