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Breaking the Line: The Season in Black College Football That Transformed the Sport and Changed the Course of Civil Rights [Kindle Edition]

Samuel G. Freedman
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $17.99
Kindle Price: $11.14
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Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc

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Book Description

1967. Two rival football teams. Two legendary coaches. Two talented quarterbacks. Together they broke the color line, revolutionized college sports, and transformed the NFL. Freedman’s dramatic account, highly praised as a contributing part of the movement and a riveting sports story, is now available in paperback.

In September 1967, after three years of landmark civil rights laws and three months of devastating urban riots, the football season began at Louisiana’s Grambling College and Florida A&M. The teams were led by two extraordinary coaches, Eddie Robinson and Jake Gaither, and they featured the best quarterbacks ever at each school, James Harris and Ken Riley.

Breaking the Line brings to life the historic saga of the battle for the 1967 black college championship, culminating in a riveting, excruciatingly close contest. Samuel G. Freedman traces the rise of these four leaders and their teammates as they storm through the season. Together they helped compel the segre­gated colleges of the South to integrate their teams and redefined who could play quarterback in the NFL, who could be a head coach, and who could run a franchise as general manager.

In Breaking the Line, Freedman brilliantly tells this suspenseful story of character and talent as he takes us from locker room to state capitol, from embattled campus to packed stadium. He captures a pivotal time in American sport and society, filling a missing and crucial chapter in the movement for civil rights.

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The year 1967 represented a transitional point in the civil rights movement. As award-winning journalist Freedman states, it was a time of soaring hopes and dashed expectations. Integration was being challenged by black nationalism and faced a white backlash, as well. Caught in the middle were the historically black colleges, pillars within the separate-but-equal tradition. Their sports teams, a traditional source of pride to the community, were facing new issues, including competition to recruit black athletes from bigger universities in the North and, slowly, in the South. It was in this environment that legendary football coaches Eddie Robinson of Grambling and Jake Gaither of Florida A&M, at the point of establishing their legacies, were to meet in the championship game of black college football, the Orange Blossom Classic. Focusing on these remarkable men, their times, their institutions, and their players, Freedman, who has not previously written on athletics (though he has written about black culture), has produced an informative book. Though it doesn’t quite fulfill the ambition of its subtitle, it does make a solid contribution to sports history. --Mark Levine


“A powerful narrative of two men, two teams and the stirring battle for dignity and honor during a single tumultuous season in the 1960's South. Freedman masterfully brings to life the burning ambitions, the cleats on scrubgrass and the struggle for victory by these coaches and players not only as black athletes, but as men and as Americans. A riveting story not only of a season but of a country at the crossroads.” (Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns )

“When history writes people out, it is our job to write them back in. Samuel G. Freedman has done a marvelous job of that in Breaking the Line, his illuminating account of football and race in the South.” (David Maraniss, author of When Pride Still Mattered and Clemente )

“Samuel Freedman is one of our most gifted chroniclers of history recent and present. Breaking the Line is as particular in the humanity it portrays as it is important for the conflict it illuminates: an Iliad of college football and social justice.” (Diane McWhorter, author of Carry Me Home )

Breaking the Line graphically captures the grim terror of Jim Crow worlds in the South that defined the lives of Jake Gaither and Eddie Robinson during their coaching careers at Florida A&M and Grambling. With his beautiful prose style, Sam Freedman frames black history and the Civil Rights Movement through the lens of football. Breaking the Line reads like a novel and offers the reader a deep understanding of how football and black history intersect.” (William Ferris, author of Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues )

Product Details

  • File Size: 17161 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (August 13, 2013)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00A27XEU4
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #342,352 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reaching for equality on the gridiron August 13, 2013
When the 2013 college football season kicks off in couple weeks (I can't wait!), the players we cheer for are just as likely to be black as white. According to the NCAA, in 2010 45.1% of Division I football players were white, 45.8% were black. In the NFL in 2010, 67% of players were black. For football fans born in the 1960s or later, seeing black players on college or pro teams is not an issue. But for our parents' generation, color mattered on the playing field, as it did everywhere else.

In Breaking the Line: The Season in Black College Football That Transformed the Sport and Changed the Course of Civil Rights, Samuel Freedman tells the story of the historic meeting, in 1967, of two storied football programs, when the Grambling Tigers met the Florida A&M Rattlers in the Orange Blossom Classic. Eddie Robinson, Grambling's legendary coach, had a long-term goal of sending a quarterback to the NFL. FAMU's Jake Gaither worked for years for the chance to play his team against a white college team. Both men recognized that until black colleges faced white colleges on the gridiron, and unless black quarterbacks call the signals in the NFL, black colleges and black players would always be considered second rate.

For alumni and fans of Grambling and FAMU, breaking the line will be a walk down memory lane. Drawing on contemporary accounts, as well as extensive interviews with a huge cast of characters, Freedman recreates the world of 1960s black college football in way that made me wish I were there. The play-by-play of the games (he lists game film in the bibliography) have the potential to bog down the narrative, but Freedman artfully works the games into the broader story.

And the story is much broader than football.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just in Time for the 2013 Football Season.... August 13, 2013
Breaking the Line: The Season in Black College Football That Transformed the Sport and Changed the Course of Civil Rights by Samuel G. Freedman (Simon & Schuster, 2013, 336 Pages, $28.00) in a gripping tale of a season consumed with both the strife of the surging civil rights movement during the mid-sixties and the rivalry for supremacy in black college football between two of the greatest, and least recognized, coaches in football history. In telling the stories of Eddie Robinson, head coach of Grambling College in Lincoln Parish , LA and Jake Gaither, who coached at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, Freedman tells the story of the changes in American society that led to the breaking of the barriers keeping black Americans from finding their places in American sport, and in the larger realm of American life. While, we are now 150 years beyond the emancipation proclamation, the story of race relations and black advancement is still being told, but this crucial year in the history of black progress, explored within the context of two coaches whose approaches to playing the game of football and the game of life in a rapidly changing racial environment were coming under criticism, helps readers understand the magnitude of the change and the difficulty of achieving it in the strongest and most persuasive narrative I've read. You can read the rest of this review on my blog. If you decide to purchase the book, please consider ordering it using the Amazon portal on my site.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent September 10, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Well written and researched. The book took me back to a time that I remember and cherish. I sent a note to the author.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For a football book it was good. October 2, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Great history and stories well researched! I loved the personal accounts of the coaches and the players. I would recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written history at it's best! September 9, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
Thank you to Goodreads and Simon & Schuster for giving me this book free. I really enjoyed this book. If you like to learn about American History in an engaging way or you like football, you should read this book. I thought the author did an outstanding job of writing about this time period while keeping the story engaging and easily digestible for the reader. The football scenes really brought the characters and the story to life. The incorporation of pictures was also a wonderful way to bring this history lesson to life. The story was well written and never became to fact filled or boring. I learned a lot and really enjoyed it, you don't hear those words put together very often. I applaud Samuel G. Freedman for a well written book and will seek out his other books as I found this one so engaging.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent book September 22, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
great reading because I am from a black college and love reading everything about what happened in those good old days.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Compelling Story, Sadly Predictable Ending November 4, 2014
By Paul
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Breaking the Line captures the drama of black football powerhouses Florida A&M and Grambling, and their Hall of Fame Coaches Jake Gaither and Eddie Robinson, during the height of the struggle for integration in the South in the late 60s. It's a story well-told, and to most football fans, one they're likely to hear for the first time.

As a freshman at FAMU's crosstown university in Tallahassee, Florida State, in 1969, I knew of A&M's renowned marching band and the football team's preeminence among historically black colleges. But that was all. Never at one time in the years I was in Tallahassee, did I venture across town to FAMU. To this day, I have no idea what the campus looks like. That was the South then. But things changed quickly, so quickly, that in 1972, Florida State's basketball team, with five black starters, narrowly lost to UCLA in the national championship game.

While the plot in Breaking the Line is compelling, the ending is, unfortunately, more of the predictable anguish over the plight of black athletes in colleges today. Freedman talks of the "expedient integration" that "formerly segregated" football teams employ today, "as black athletes are too often exploited for their football talent and allowed to falter in the classroom." "Allowed to falter in the classroom?" Today's athletes have more resources than ever before to make it - if they choose to take advantage of them. Freedman's statement of fact is nothing more than a bromide for what New York Times readers expect to hear - that black athletes are exploited in Southern schools. Nonsense. Either athletes can't cut it academically (then look to their elementary and secondary school performance) or they choose not to place a high regard for academics and pay the price.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars This book brought players alive who were great players in their day...
This book brought players alive who were great players in their day and happened to be playing their college ball under the radar at all black colleges. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Bruce Montigney
5.0 out of 5 stars Civil Rights Movement and College Football
Great book with a look at the civil rigts movement in relation to college football. Loved reading about this moment in history.
Published 1 month ago by Kristine Olson
5.0 out of 5 stars Always glad to read books
Always glad to read books, see movies about Coach Eddie Robinson and Grambling State University. Really enjoying the book because I know some of these folks, remember some of the... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mary J. Fortson
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
true life
Published 4 months ago by ERIC LEVIN
4.0 out of 5 stars Great HBCU History
This book is a great read to learn a little Black college football history. And it was interesting to hear how black players and great coaches dominate college football when they... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Rodney Collins
5.0 out of 5 stars Breaking Barriers
Excellent read with good history. Two great coaches with a purpose!! I would recommend this book to any aspiring athlete!!
Published 8 months ago by Clarence W. Bivens III
4.0 out of 5 stars A Personal Reflection
This book is especially appealing to me because many of the events were taking place during my final years in high school. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Obie C Hill
5.0 out of 5 stars rEVIEW
This was great book. It made be feel good about my start to my present state of mind. We need more time!
Published 10 months ago by david hitchcock
5.0 out of 5 stars Giants Among Men
This book, while a page-turner, was a great read. It heralded the work of two great American men and their efforts in mentoring young men. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Papa Bear
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