The way it was: Skipper’s new book tells the story of the Alabama football team’s integration

Artist and author Steve Skipper, above, will autograph for his new book 9780 Paul Bryant Drive: University of Alabama Football Team Integration” at the Alabama Booksmith in Homewood on Feb. 23.

Written by Robyn E Grant

Artist and author Steve Skipper wasn’t planning to write a book about the University of Alabama football team’s integrations.

But while doing research for a plaque honoring John Mitchell and Wilbur Jackson, the first black Crimson Tide players, it turned out to be more than just a piece of art. It became a book called “9780 Paul Bryant Drive: Integration of the University of Alabama Football Team.”

Describing the recently released book, Skipper said, “It is a compelling and epic story and narrative by the players, coaches, and administrators who have witnessed and been affected by the culture-shifting integration of the Alabama football team.”

“It started with me painting a plaque for the Bryant Museum, celebrating the integration of football in Alabama,” said Skipper, who grew up in the Rosedale community and played football at Homewood High School. “You hear a lot of talk about it, and mostly it was just legends behind it, like after the game against USC (in 1970).”

USC started an all-black backyard, featuring Sam “Bam” Cunningham, who rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Trojans to a 42-21 season-opening win against the Tide at Legion Field.

Cunningham and the Trojans were not accurately credited with convincing Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant to merge his team. But Jackson, the running back, had already signed with the Tide. Since freshmen were not eligible under NCAA rules to play for the university at the time, Jackson watched the game from the student section.

The following season, Jackson and Mitchell, defensive ends and a junior transfer to college, became the first black players in Alabama football history and helped the Tide of the Tide open the 1971 season with a 17-10 victory over the University of Southern California at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

“Some of the things that were said about the integration of the Alabama football team weren’t true,” said Skipper. “I decided to tell the story, tell it accurately, and then double it up as a book.”

The book includes accounts of players affected by the integration, such as 1980s Alabama linebacker Cornelius Bennett. Skipper also includes the role played by former Alabama Governor George Wallace, who once said in one of his speeches, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Gov. “Wallace deserves credit for how it changed his mind and his life,” Skipper said. “I focus on changing because he repented and admitted he was wrong. I have experienced God’s grace in my life so I cannot deny that God did the same for him.”

Skipper also pays tribute to Jackson and Mitchell.

“I thank God for these two men that every player who came to the University of Alabama with and after them, black and white, needs to look back and thank you because the great legacy of Alabama football has been greatly enhanced by and through them,” Skipper said. It’s still all over Capstone and it will forever be.”

The Coffee Table Style Book with Jacket is published in full color by Skipper’s Anointed Homes Art LLC. It’s available online at steveskipperstudio.com in a standard edition for $69 and a limited edition for $170 individually signed by Skipper, Mitchell, and Jackson. Price includes shipping within the continental United States.

Skipper’s memorial plaque called “9780 Paul Bryant Drive” was unveiled last year at the Bryant Museum in Tuscaloosa and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in Birmingham.

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