Fritz Pollard was considered one of the first African Americans to play professional football. In 1919 Pollard joined the Akron Pros, which in 1920 joined the American Professional Football Association (APFA), later known as the National Football League (NFL).  As one of just two African Americans in the new league, Pollard earned a place in football history. He was known as "an exciting elusive runner" and "the most feared running back in the fledgling league." In 1921 the Pros named Pollard co-coach of the team, earning him the distinction of the first African American to coach in NFL history. After becoming a coach for the NFL, Pollard was known to coach up to four different teams in a single season. Then in 1928 he organized a professional all-African American team in Chicago known as the Chicago Black Hawks. Playing against white teams around Chicago, the Black Hawks enjoyed great success and became a highly popular team until the Depression caused the team to fold in 1932.

Ray Kemp was an American football player and a charter member of the Pittsburgh Pirates football team (now called the Pittsburgh Steelers). He was also the first African American player in the team's history. In fact in 1933, he was the only African-American on the team and only one of two black players. Kemp played in the Pirates' first three games against, the New York Giants, Chicago Cardinals and Boston Redskins. After the Redskins game, Kemp was cut by the team. He appealed the cut to Art Rooney, but Rooney refused to go over the head of the coach. However a newspaper story claimed that Kemp was placed on the reserve list and quit. Art Rooney stated that he was limited to having only 22 players on the roster and preferred to keep the more experienced players in the entire NFL.  Kemp then went back to his job in the steel mill and the Pirates went 2-5 over the next seven games. He was named to the starting lineup after only two days of practice and played the entire game at tackle against the New York Giants. The Friday before the Pirates' game in New York, Kemp was asked to leave the hotel housing the Pirates' players. It was suggested he file a discrimination suit. However Kemp refused, fearing the backlash that would occur to Art Rooney, who had given him a chance at an NFL career. That game against the Giants was the final game of Kemp's brief career in the NFL. The next season he was hired as the head football coach at Bluefield State College.

Kenny Washington, an African American, was very popular, he had garnered national attention in the news print media.  After he played in the College All Star game in August 1940, George Halas asked him not to return to Los Angeles immediately because Halas wanted to sign him to a contract with the Chicago Bears. After a week or so, Washington returned to Los Angeles without an NFL contract. In 1946, after the Rams had received approval to move to Los Angeles, members of the African American print media made the Los Angeles Coliseum commission aware the NFL did not have any African American players and reminded the commission the Coliseum was supported with public funds. Therefore, its commission had to abide by an 1896 Supreme Court decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, by not leasing the stadium to a segregated team. They specifically suggested the Rams should give Washington a tryout. The commission advised the Rams that they would have to integrate the team with at least one African American in order to lease the Coliseum, and the Rams agreed to this condition. So the Rams signed Washington on March 21, 1946. The signing of Kenny Washington caused "all hell to break loose" among the owners of the NFL franchises. The Rams added a second black player, Woody Strode, on May 7, 1946, giving them two black players going into the 1946 season.

George Taliaferro was the first African American drafted by a National Football League team. He helped break the color barrier in sports. Taliaferro, a halfback, quarterback, and punter, was picked by the Chicago Bear in the thirteenth round of the 1949 NFL Draft but chose to play instead with the Los Angeles Dons of the All-American Confernce. He played with the Dons in 1949, then moved to the NFL, where he played with the New York Yanks 1950-51, Dallas Texans 1952, Baltimore Colts 1953-54, and Philadelphia Eagles 1955. He went to the Pro Bowl in 1951, 1952, and 1953.


 

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