Breaking The Color Barrier
UGA's first black gridiron stars paved the way
If you think the University of Georgia’s first group of African-American athletes was an ordinary bunch of jocks, think again.
“We made a pact,” remembers Robert Horace (Chuck) Kinnebrew, “that excelling off the gridiron was just as important as excelling on it. We were going to show our teammates that black people were not dumb, that they could be just as intelligent as white people.”
Of the five Bulldogs who broke the color line on the gridiron in 1971, Kinnebrew and Horace King received their college degrees, Clarence Pope and Larry West became ordained ministers and Richard Appleby is a business success in Hawaii.
“It was more important for me to graduate than it was to play football,” Kinnebrew says. He did both. He was a defensive guard on the varsity team for three years and a starter his senior year. Kinnebrew came from Rome, where he was a Class AA All-State end at West Rome High School and a state champion in wrestling and discus throwing. He was highly sought-after in the SEC and had a scholarship offer from the University of Pennsylvania which wanted him as a business student as well as a football player.
“My dad wanted me to be a Bulldog,” he said. “When I was five or six years old my dad told me I was going to be the first black to attend Georgia. He made an audiotape of that statement along with a tape of ‘Glory, Glory To Old Georgia’ and played them once a week for the next 12 years.
“When I got to Georgia, our black group stuck together, lived together and met regularly with a group of black businessmen who became a tremendous support group.” Today, Kinnebrew is a director of purchasing for Home Depot in Acworth. Pope, the grandson of a minister, is assistant pastor of the New Freedom Christian Church in Athens and has been a firefighter for the local fire department for 27 years. When he isn’t putting out fires or teaching Bible classes, he works with support groups for people who have drug and alcohol problems.
Pope says his biggest gridiron thrill was in 1973 when the Bulldogs beat Tennessee and Condridge Holloway, the first black quarterback in the SEC.
“I learned to get along with people who had different ideas than I did,” he says of his experience at the University of Georgia. “I learned to love my fellow man, regardless of the color of his skin and regardless of his value system, even though it may be miles apart from mine.”
Star of the group on the gridiron was King. He played wingback and tailback, gaining 1,287 yards rushing, including 19 rushing touchdowns. He was a three-year starter and an all-SEC choice.
King played eight years with the Detroit Lions of the National Football League. In 1979 he led his team in rushing, was second in pass receiving and had an incredible 32 carries against New England. He set a Detroit Silverdome record for the longest run from scrimmage, 74 yards against the Tampa Bay Bucs. He now lives in the Detroit area where he is a purchasing agent for Bechtel Co.
Appleby led the Bulldogs in pass receiving for three consecutive seasons but he will long be remembered for one play. In 1975, with Georgia trailing Florida, 7-3, with 3:24 remaining, Appleby got the ball on an end-around play, faked a run to the outside, stopped and threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Gene Washington for a Georgia victory.
West attended Albany High School and played three years for the Dogs. He lives and preaches in the Washington, D.C., area.
In 2002, Georgia honored its first African-American football players before a packed house at Sanford Stadium. Kinnebrew says, “There has been no bigger thrill. We were recognized for paving the way for Herschel and all the other African-Americans.