NOLA Life Stories: How Bobby Grier Broke The Color Barrier At The Sugar Bowl

Jan 2, 2017

Bobby Grier was the first African-American to play in the Sugar Bowl. As a member of the Pittsburgh Panthers, Grier played against Georgia Tech on January 2, 1956 — only months after Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi and weeks after Rosa Parks was arrested in Alabama.

Perhaps as expected, his participation was met with opposition: the governor of Georgia insisted that Georgia Tech boycott the Sugar Bowl that year. But the game was played, Grier was its leading rusher, and the Civil Rights Movement continued to gain momentum.

The Pittsburgh Panthers ended up losing the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets by a score of 7-0. At one point Grier was called for pass interference, which swayed the momentum in Georgia Tech’s favor; although Grier's race was speculated to influence the call, the referee later went on record to say it was a bad call. Ironically, he was a Pittsburgh native.

Grier was praised for his participation in the bowl and received letters of support from around the world, including one from local radio station WBOK.

This interview was originally conducted by Mark Cave for the Historic New Orleans Collection