It is easy to assume that the Ku Klux Klan’s racist reign of terror only existed in the southern regions of the United States, but our brothers and sisters in the Pacific Northwest also faced the hate group. Despite this towering barrier, Robert Robinson and Charles Williams rose to become the first Black athletes at the University of Oregon, and the first Black college athletes in the state.
The future Oregon Ducks both hailed from Portland and were friends and rivals from different high schools. Robinson was a multi-sport star at Jefferson High, while Williams was a running back at Washington High. They came to the University of Oregon in Eugene with high expectations and the drama of their race as the centerpiece. The school’s campus was still married to the idea of segregation, so off-campus housing was their only option.
Given the Klan’s presence and the climate, it was shocking that the team’s white players petitioned that Robinson and Williams were allowed to live on campus although resistance was still high. Despite this, Coach John McEwan made them centerpieces in his team’s schemes. In fact, there are reports that suggest that Robinson and Williams, who both played several positions, may have been the first Black quarterbacks ever to play for a major integrated college.
With the tiresome efforts of writer and research Herman L. Brame, the legacies of Robinson and Williams will not go forgotten. Brame has written that Robinson became a notable track and field athlete in Canada, eventually moving to Los Angeles and becoming an activist.
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