It was a pretty good weekend for Kentucky football. The University of Kentucky football team finally got a win against a somewhat legitimate opponent. Also, former UK and current Tennessee Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard was inducted in the UK Football Hall of Fame.
While either of these could be the biggest story coming from last week, it's definitely not. The biggest story happened right in front of the brand new UK football training facility. UK Athletics paid appropriate homage to four men who changed not only University of Kentucky sports, but SEC sports forever.
Let's rewind to 1966. Let's just say if you think race relations are bad now; they were nuclear in the 60s. In July of '67 urban uprisings due to racism had gotten so bad and out of control, President Lyndon B. Johnson created the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders later to be called the Kerner Commission.
What did they eventually find? Chairman of the Kerner Commission, Illinois governor Otto Kerner stated the nation is, “moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” Yea...no bueno.
Slightly before that revelation in 1966, a young African-American kid by the name of Nate Northington was tearing up the football field for Louisville Thomas Jefferson High School. According to an article by the NKY Tribune, Northington was highly sought after by the University of Louisville and Purdue after leading all Louisville high school teams in scoring and garnering all-state honors.
During his recruiting process, the University of Kentucky wasn't even on his list. It wasn't even until the current governor and university president encouraged Northington to come to UK. They promised him he wouldn't be the only man of color on their football team.
Even after positive visits to Purdue and UofL, Northington decided to go the road never traveled and joined the Wildcats.
Not too long after that Greg Page, a stout defensive end from Middlesboro High School joined Northington as UK signee. A year later, two more trailblazers, Wilbur Hackett and Houston Hogg, would join Northington and Page as a foursome looking to break the color barrier in SEC football.
On September 29, 1967, that foursome would tragically be turned into a trio. After an accident at practice, Greg Page would pass away due to a neck injury prior to the start of their sophomore season. A day later, his close friend and roommate Northington would make sure his legacy would live on at UK.
On September 30th, UK would host SEC-foe Ole Miss. On that day, Nat Northington would step onto Stoll Field and break the color barrier in the SEC. Don't think Northington or any of the four's road to that day was an easy one.
Northington and others have spoken about their experiences on the road for games; sometimes fearing for their well-being while traveling for away games in a segregated south. That didn't stop Northington or any of them from making history.
While Northington would end up transferring to WKU for personal reasons, he did tell Hackett and Hogg to stick around and finish what he and Page had started.
Last Thursday, a statue commemorating what those four did was unveiled in the plaza between the new University of Kentucky Football Training Facility and Commonwealth Stadium.
The bronze statue joins a plaque on north campus commemorating Lyman T. Johnson becoming the first black student at UK and Lyman T. Johnson Hall as an outward sign of African-American achievement at UK.
During the unveiling of the statue, UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said, "No four players in our program’s history have better demonstrated the values of courage, determination, and selflessness than Nate, Greg, Wilbur and Houston."
The next time you're on campus, I highly encourage you to stop by the statue and take a second to honor four men that faced an enormous amount of racism to break the color barrier in the SEC and blaze a trail that UK and SEC athletes continue to travel on today.