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Before looking at W&L's black athletes, it is essential to see how, before integration, the school reacted to diversity on opposing teams. W&L's athletic department recognized games starting in 1890. These small baseball and football teams frequently played against nearby schools, including the University of Virginia Cavaliers and, next door, the VMI Cadets. For an all-white, male school playing against similar schools in southern Virginia, there weren't any racial conflicts for the first few decades of play. 

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Charles West: the black athlete on Washington and Jefferson's football team that sparked the outrage by Washington and Lee's team. West would later be inducted in the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame for being the first black QB in the Rose Bowl. West would also later on become a respected doctor.

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Ring-tum Phi headline from the forfeting incident

This time of diversity-free competition ended in 1915 when W&L's football team was scheduled to play Rutgers University. Upon learning that the Rutgers starting lineup included a black athlete, Paul Robeson, W&L demanded that the coaches remove the athlete from the game or else the W&L would withdraw from the competition. Rutgers conceded to the request, and they played the game. The same incident occurred eight years later in 1923 against Washington and Jefferson College but with greater  controversy. This time, coach John Heisman (yes, that Heisman) of Washington and Jefferson had no intentions of removing Charles West, the athlete under discussion, from the game. W&L walked off the field and forfeited the game 1-0.

Before integration, W&L showed poor sportsmanship against student-athletes of color. There is little documentation of the first incident involving Rutgers, and the '23-'24 Calyx (W&L's yearbook) did not mention the conflict with Washington and Jefferson College despite having game recaps for every other game that season. Perhaps there were even more instances of prejudice against opposing black student-athletes that we may not know about, because W&L did not document them. These two events were the only ones we could find record of until the integration of W&L in 1968. Thus, there is a high likelihood W&L athletics committed other acts of discrimination during that 40 year period. This history is the starting point in W&L's athletic history. It would be several decades until W&L would see any improvement in race relations.

1922 Rose Bowl Game (Charles West Footage)


Ring-tum Phi Article discussing the football team walking off the field.