UT Austin honors Julius Whittier, first Black Longhorn football letterman, with statue

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Before Friday’s Longhorns game against Iowa State, UT Athletics unveiled a statue honoring the football program’s first Black letterman, Julius Whittier.

The 12.5-foot statue now stands in the north end of Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium and commemorates the legacy of Whittier, a Texas Athletics Hall of Honor member and a national champion with the Longhorns in 1970.

“Anytime you can celebrate somebody who has paved the ground for others, it’s well worth it,” said Texas Fan, Larry Wethers.

As a member of the 1970 championship team, Whittier effectively made the 1969 title team the last segregated team in college football.

Juilis Whittier paved the way for African American athletes to come.

“I wanted to leave Texas because I was tired of Jim Crow,” said Willie Blackmon. “It makes me feel great, because I was one of those people. People told me to not go to school in the State of Texas.”

Willie Blackmon came out for the unveiling. He was an All-American athlete at Texas A&M in the 1970s. Blackmon says he almost left Texas due to discrimination back then against African Americans.

(KXAN/Frank Martinez)

During Whittier’s time with the ‘Horns, he earned three varsity letters as an offensive lineman and tight end.

While Whittier was neither the first black player for the Longhorns, that was walk-on E. A. Curry in 1967, nor the first black scholarship football player, Leon O’Neal a year later, both failed to earn a varsity letter, paving the way for Whittier to be the first black player to earn that distinction, according to the New York Times.

After completing undergraduate, graduate and law degrees at UT, Whittier worked as a senior prosecutor in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office before retiring in 2012.

“I just hope that the statue will embody what I feel is most important about the University of Texas, and that’s greatness,” said UT fan, Brian Mccleskey.

Whittier died in 2018 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

In June, Texas student-athletes called on the university to make several changes toward racial inclusivity and anti-racism on campus. In July, university leaders announced efforts to “promote diversity, inclusion and equity and to more fully support Black students on campus.” A statue for the three-year varsity letterman was one of the university’s initiatives. 

One such campaign was a call to have UT’s alma mater song, “The Eyes of Texas,” retired. Earlier this year, three student petitions called for the university to consider replacement.

UT President Jay Hartzell announced a committee will look into the full history of “The Eyes of Texas.” Members will recommend ways to improve understanding about its origins. The school says that work is ongoing this fall.

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