Everything you ever wanted to know about the State of
past and present sports teams and athletes.
Oregon Sports Pioneers
from the Golden Age of Sports
In 1926, Robert Robinson (left) and Charles Williams
(right) enrolled at the
University of Oregon and became its first
African American athletes.
Oregon's only Heisman Trophy Winner
In 1962, Terry Baker became Oregon's first and only Heisman Trophy
The 1920s have been called the Golden Age of Sports by many, and was without a doubt the beginning of big-time sports in the United States and the state of oregon. Although the state of Oregon's constitution had many provisions that discriminated against African Americans, it did not stop some African Americans from coming to Oregon in search of opportunity. Robert S. Robinson and Charles Edward Williams made history in 1926, when they enrolled at the University of Oregon as student-athletes with the football program. They became the state's first African American collegiate athletes of record, and Robinson became possibly the first African American to play quarterback for a major "white" college.
Robert S. Robinson
Charles A. Williams
Prior to Robinson and Williams enrolling at the University of Oregon, African American college students were very rare and those who did come where not permitted to reside in University Housing. In 1925, Dr. William Sherman Savage became the University of Oregon's first African American graduate when he completed his M.A. degree, and according to Dr. Savage he was preceded by another African American student named Mabel Byrd who worked as a domestic in the home of Dr. Joseph Shaffer. Robinson and Williams were not the first African Americans at the University of Oregon, but they were the first widely known full-time African American students in the school's history.
Robinson was born in Temple, Texas and moved to Portland in 1922 where he enrolled at Jefferson High School. He was a great success as a multi-sport athlete excelling in football, basketball, baseball and track. His final year he was selected first team All-City in football.
Bobby Robinson (center) with 1925 Jefferson High
Williams was born in Kansas City, Kansas and attended Washington high school in Portland before earning his high school diploma in Kansas City. He was an exceptional basketball player and football player for Washington High School in 1925, and was a high school friend and rival of Robinson. His final year he was selected first team All-City in football.
Even though their was a strong anti-Black Ku Klux Klan presence in Oregon, both Robinson and Williams became high school sports stars in Portland, and played before huge crowds at old Multnomah Stadium. In 1924, the Oregonian newspaper reported a fan making a death threat against Robinson during a game at Multnomah Stadium. During the 1920s, it was common for the Klan to parade openly and meet with elected officials throughout the state. Even the University of Oregon had some klansmen who were associated with the football program, and their were a few students who were active in the Klan. When Robinson and Williams first attended the University of Oregon they were not allowed to live in University Housing because of their race and had to stay off campus in an apartment. Their white teammates signed a petition and submitted it to the school demanding that Robinson and Williams be allowed to live in the dormitories with them. During their second year at the school the administration relented and allowed them to stay in Friendly Hall, but they had to enter through a separate door made for them, and reside in a separate part of the building. According to an account given by Williams, they managed to mix in the dormitory with the other students despite the segregated layout. On road trips they were not allowed to stay in hotels with the team, and were required to stay separate in other housing. However, their teammates would sneak them into their rooms at night so they could be with the team.
Robinson and Williams were popular with most of their teammates, but their were some in Eugene who did not want them on the team. Eventually, community pressure prevented the school from starting Robinson and Williams in the backfield at the same time during home games. Robinson was a nifty multi-talented backfield player who played quarterback, halfback, receiver, defensive back, punter, punt and kick returner. Additionally, Robinson was an excellent pole vaulter for the Oregon Ducks. Williams was a tough yardage fullback/halfback and defensive back. Early in their careers they started many games on offense, but later became second team players on offense despite their apparent talent. They received a great deal of positive coverage in the school paper and annual.
In 1928, both Robinson and Williams were an important part of the team's unprecedented 9 win 2 loss season that led to championships of the Northwest and Mid-Pacific. It was apparent that some associated with the program and community did not want them to represent Oregon, but there were many whites on the team and in the community who supported their participation. Their were racial slights to be sure, with black face cartoons and other negative stereotypes in the school paper and annual, but overall Robinson and Williams were a success on and off the field for the University of Oregon during a very difficult time in Oregon's social history.
In spite of all the success, tragedy struck Robinson and Williams just before the final game of their college careers in 1929. Oregon was scheduled to play the University of Florida in Miami, but the school refused to play if Robinson or Williams was allowed to play in the game. The University of Oregon's administration succumbed to the racist pressure and left Robinson and Williams at home. Because the University of Florida would not compete against African American athletes, Robinson and Williams were denied the right to compete in the final game of their college careers. Friends and supporters of Robinson and Williams were outraged, but there were many others who went along with the decision. Robinson completed his collegiate football career on a positive note when he was named third team Pacific Coast halfback and tied for first in the conference pole vault championships. After college Robinson had an excellent career in Canada pole vaulting, and earned his degree in 1935. He eventually settled in Los Angeles where he became a social activist. Williams married and raised a family in Portland while working as a warehouseman.
In May, 2003, I approached the University of Oregon with a request for the school to officially recognize the contribution of Robert S. Robinson and Charles A. Williams. For a full manuscript about Robinson and Williams write Herman L. Brame, 5845 N.E. 23rd, Portland, Oregon 97211.
Herman L. Brame
August 12, 2003
Oregon's First Heisman Trophy Winner
Terry Baker was born May 5, 1941 at Pine River, Minnesota and spent most of his youth in northeast Portland where he attended legendary Jefferson High School with the fabled Renfro brothers and many other fine athletes. While at Jefferson High School, Baker starred as a quarterback with the football team, and as a guard with the basketball team. He was a High School All-American in both sports, and went to Oregon State University on a basketball scholarship before joining the football team under coach Tommy Protho his sophomore year and became the starter at quarterback.
In his final year with the Oregon State Beavers in 1962, he led the nation in total offense with 2,276 yards, earned consensus All-American honors and won both the Heisman and Maxwell Trophies as the year's best college football player. He had an amazing career total of 4,980 yards running and passing. While at Oregon State he was also a standout on the basketball team averaging more than 10 points per game from 1961 through 1963, and was a forced enabling the Oregon State basketball team to earn NCAA tournament appearances in 1961/62 and 1962/63 seasons. He graduated with a Mechanical Engineering degree in 1963.
After college the Los Angeles Rams took him as the first player drafted in the 1963 NFL draft. Baker played with the Rams for three seasons, but never could crack the starting lineup, and in 1967 he played briefly with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League. He completed his juris doctorate from the University of Southern California in 1968. Outside of football he distinguished himself as a lawyer, and had many honors to him name including serving on the staff of the President's Commission on Campus Unrest and the Kent State Task Force in 1970. In 1998, he received the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award and was elected to the GTE Academic All-American Hall of Fame in 1991. He has also served many community organizations in a voluntary capacity. To date Terry Baker is Oregon's only Heisman Trophy Winner.
Terry Baker's Collegiate Awards (partial list):
Heisman Award and Maxwell Award (Outstanding Player in the Nation)
Sportsman of the Year (Sports Illustrated Magazine)
Helms Foundation Award (Top Athlete in North America)
Player of the Year (AP, UPI, Coach & Athlete Magazine)