BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Saturday will mark the 50th anniversary of the day Kentucky’s Nate Northington became the first African-American to participate in a varsity contest between two Southeastern Conference football teams.
The Southeastern Conference will commemorate the event with a one-minute video message that will air during every SEC football game on CBS and all ESPN platforms on Saturday. The video, titled “Together, It Just Means More,” will include a tribute to Northington as well as Vanderbilt’s Perry Wallace. who broke the color-barrier in SEC men’s basketball the same year, plus imagery from all 14 institutions.
“The seeds of change planted by these men and so many others have blossomed today into hundreds of opportunities in every SEC sport and in the academic programs of our universities,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. “Those who endured in the early moments of change serve as reminders of our mutual responsibility to support opportunities for today’s young people, make certain we foster their education and graduation, and bring together our communities through our universities and athletics programs.”
Northington, a defensive back and running back from Louisville, Ky., and fellow African-American Greg Page, a defensive end from Middlesboro, Ky., signed with Kentucky and enrolled in 1966.
Northington and Page starred for the Wildcat freshman team in 1966 and were expected to make major contributions to the varsity as sophomores. However, Page sustained a neck injury in August, 1967, and passed away on September 29, 1967. Northington played in his first varsity football game on September 23 vs. Indiana, and on September 30, 1967, made his debut in an SEC game vs. Ole Miss.
Later that year, Vanderbilt’s Perry Wallace became the SEC’s first African-American varsity basketball player when he competed in a game against SMU on December 2, 1967, then played in his first SEC varsity contest two days later in a game against Auburn. Wallace and fellow African-American Godfrey Dillard played together the previous season in 1966 on the Vanderbilt freshman team.
The first African-American to play in an SEC varsity contest in any sport was Stephen Martin who played baseball for Tulane, then a member of the SEC, in the spring of 1966.
The video tribute was produced by The Richards Group, the SEC’s marketing agency of record which has produced the league’s “It Just Means More” video series, and is narrated by Wynn Everett, the Auburn graduate and movie and television actress who has served as the voice of the SEC’s public service announcements.