February is Black History Month, and the Penn State All-Sports Museum is celebrating with a series of special programs entitled "Breaking Barriers: The Story and Legacy of African American Athletes at Penn State." It's a part of local history many of us do not know.
The University was founded in 1855, an entire decade before the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. The first African American student enrolled in 1899, but it took another ten years for an African American athlete to compete on a varsity team.
Cumberland Posey made history when he donned a Nittany Lion basketball jersey in 1910, but that was just the beginning of his place in the history books. He went on to found the Homestead Grays, part of the Negro Baseball League, which found success almost three decades before the civil rights movement in America.
Posey paved the way for future Nittany Lion athletes, and head coaches Jerry Dunn and Coquese Washington.
In 1946, Penn State cancelled a football game against Miami because the Lions opponent insisted that their first two African American varsity football players, Dennie Hoggard and Wally Triplett were left at home. Penn State stood up to the racial prejudice and played a part in breaking another color barrier. What would Penn State football history be without players like Franco Harris, Lydell Mitchell and Michael Robinson?
In many ways, athletics have been a great equalizer in our society: a venue where one's ability and attitude are paramount to the color of one's skin. Baskets and touchdowns count the same no matter what race of athlete is throwing, catching or kicking or dunking the ball.
In an era with sports icons like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, and a Steelers Super Bowl winning head coach in Mike Tomlin, it's easy to forget a time not so long ago when it took incredible courage and determination for minority athletes to seize the opportunity to compete.
To hear some of the stories of the journey of African American athletes at Penn State, attend one or more of the ''Breaking Barriers" series. Information can be found at www.gopsusports.com/museum.
Or rent a movie made from true stories of civil rights breakthroughs in sport:
"Remember the Titans" chronicles a championship high school football team in Virginia in its first integrated season under an African American head coach.
"Glory Road" recounts the true story of Texas Western basketball coach, Don Haskins, who led the first all-black starting lineup to the NCAA title.
"The Express" is the story of college football's first African American Heisman trophy winner.
The stories are sometimes heartbreaking, but also inspiring and educational, hopefully making us understand how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go. Black history month is something to celebrate, and sports are good place to start.
Kellie Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.