Revisiting the story of Lou Montgomery – Boston College Athletics

This article was originally published as part of the BCEagles.com Black History Month series in February 2021.


In the fall of 1937, Montgomery was one of three black students in a junior class in British Columbia, and he became the first black highland student athlete as a returnee for the soccer team. He starred in the backcourt of coach Frank Leahy in 1939 and 1940, but was forced to sit in the 1940 Cotton Bowl and 1941 Sugar Bowl due to discrimination laws that prevented black athletes from competing against white athletes in South America.

An education pioneer, Montgomery was also the first black player on the Boston College baseball team during the spring of 1939.

Lou Montgomery ’41 reached heights and immediately became the first black student athlete in Boston College history. Montgomery, an All-Scholastic athlete from Brockton High School, where he was the only black player on the soccer team, followed in the footsteps of Casper Ferguson ’37, who was the school’s first black student in history and graduated a semester earlier. .
Montgomery chose to attend BC on a partial scholarship, and turned down an offer to UCLA, where he interfered with esports star Jackie Robinson. After his return to the football team, he was one of three black students in his class in British Columbia, but he was the only black athlete.

Under coach Gil Dobby, Montgomery played with the junior team in 1937 and in the band as a sophomore in 1938. With the arrival of new coach Frank Leahy for the 1939 season, the Eagles began a new, faster offensive in the open field, which featured heavily in the Montgomery at mid-back.

BC has also recently adopted an athletics philosophy of scheduling highly prolific matches nationwide against a well-known competitor. The addition of games against schools such as Auburn, Florida, and Kentucky, which were all charter members of the Southeast Conference in 1932, would raise BC’s level and earning potential through home game ticket sales and participation in one of the college’s exclusive football games. Toys.

In 1939, Montgomery averaged 9.68 yards per carry; The BC record that still stands after more than 80 years. However, Montgomery played in only nine out of 11 games for the Eagles, who finished the season 9-2. Montgomery was forced to play matches against Florida and Clemson. British Columbia only two losses per season.

Jim Crow laws in the South and shameful “gentlemen’s agreements” prevented Montgomery from entering the field against universities that remained separate from one another; Until a BC home game against Florida at Fenway Park. Although these barriers have prevented black athletes from playing against separate teams in the past, this was not always the case, but many accused the British Columbia administration of not doing enough to respond to the agreement and insisting that Montgomery be allowed to play.

Author Charles H. Martin, who wrote The Jim Crow Bench: The Rise and Fall of the Color Line in Sports, 1890-1980In his book, research claims that Montgomery was excluded from more competitions than any other black athlete at a school in the North would play. When disqualified from the game against Florida, a Pittsburgh Post Courier She accused Southern Schools of “rigging Boston College to get Montgomery, not because they objected to his color, but because it was an opportunity to disqualify a star player.”

Montgomery was a key part of Coach Leahy’s offense, as he began to see a drop in playing time after the 1939 Florida game as BC was preparing to enter the games without Montgomery in their back court. At the end of the regular season, BC accepted an invitation to the 1940 Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas to face Clemson. Montgomery was forced to stay behind, while Boston College chose to play in a game in which one of its players was not allowed to attend.

The Daily Globe It covered Eagles’ departure for the game at South Station in December of 1939, which Montgomery attended. He described his appearance as “the most poignant incident on this occasion”. It was Montgomery’s ultimately selfless decision to stay behind so that his team would not run the risk of repercussions targeting a team that allowed a black player to participate. The Globe The report added, “So when tears were welling up in his eyes and in a choking voice, he muttered to the held crowd, ‘I hope the fellows win,’ the entire crowd cheered him louder than anyone else.”

Montgomery had written in a letter to his teammates that he did not want to put himself or his team in an embarrassing situation and that his decision to stay was a matter of “self-respect”. Instead of insisting on including Montgomery, BC traveled to Dallas and suffered a 6-3 defeat to Clemson.

At the end of a perfect 11-0 season for the Eagles in 1940, Montgomery once again found himself sidelined as BC headed south in the 1941 Sugar Bowl. This time he was allowed to travel, doing so at the behest of his teammates, but had to stay with a local black family as he was denied entry to the separate team hotel. Although he was in New Orleans, Montgomery was still unable to participate in the bowl game; 19-13 BC win over Tennessee on New Year’s Day, which he watched from the press box.

The Southern Bowl color barrier wouldn’t be broken until 1947 when the Cotton Bowl agreed to allow Penn State and its black superstars Wallace Triplett and Dennis Hoggard to compete against the Southern Methodist. A year earlier, Triplett and Hoggard were banned from playing against Miami in a regular season game in the Orange Bowl. Penn State negotiated an attempt to get Triplett and Hoggard into the game, but to no avail. In response, Nittany Lions quit the game rather than concede.

Talking to Glenn Stout for Boston Magazine In 1987, Montgomery said, “I may have done the things that were easiest for the guys and at school, but it wasn’t necessarily the best thing to do.”

Montgomery, who died in 1993, was inducted into the Boston College Varsity Club Hall of Fame in 1997. In 2012, he retired his jersey to the Alumni Court.

Beginning in 2020, Lou Montgomery: A Legacy Restored, a 2015 documentary, has become the standard show for all Boston College student-athletes at the start of each fall semester.

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