Yvonne Abraham overlooks a critical point in her April 29 column on Lou Montgomery (“A reminder of how far we’ve come on race — and yet must go,” Page A1): As immoral and appalling as racial segregation was, the practice was tacitly accepted by most of American society in 1940, from Major League Baseball to the US military.
Unlike Boston College, relatively few college teams of that era even included African-Americans on their varsity football rosters. (Yale’s first African-American football player enrolled in 1945; Notre Dame’s in 1949; and it would be decades before African-Americans played football for the nation’s service academies.)
The player exclusion clause that prohibited Montgomery from appearing in certain games against teams from Southern institutions was a routine part of intersectional football contracts. Syracuse, for example, witheld an African-American player from the Maryland game in 1938. When Montgomery was held from BC games, there was no outcry from the public or media, including The Boston Globe.
Thankfully, our nation has largely corrected that terrible error. Not only did Montgomery earn his Boston College degree, but BC has gone on to become a national model in NCAA sports for graduating its student-athletes of color. It is appropriate that BC has honored Montgomery with enshrinement in its Hall of Fame, and with the planned retirement of his football jersey. These are the same types of honors afforded another American sports hero and societal pioneer — Jackie Robinson.
The writer is on the public affairs staff at Boston College, and is the author of two books on the history of BC football.