Breaking the Line: A Book in Review


Breaking the Line: A Book in Review
Sep 11, 2013

Baseball may be America’s pastime, but the importance of football in America can’t be overlooked. For many, football is a battle that is waged on the field alone – linebackers versus running backs, receivers versus cornerbacks. In Breaking The Line, Samuel G. Freedman explores the battle black football players endured on and off the field during the tumultuous racial riots in the late 1960s.

For black athletes, how they performed on the field was only one concern they had to worry about. The book focuses on two predominately black schools, Florida A&M and Grambling, and their two legendary coaches, Jake Gaither and Eddie Robinson. Freedman spends the majority of the book taking the reader through the 1967 season, one in which he believes changed the culture for black athletes in America.

In the midst of violent race riots across the country, the book explores how Gaither and Robinson kept their teams focused on football and winning. Freedman describes in vivid details the strict practice regiments and takes the reader through each team’s games during the 1967 season. By doing so, Freedman leads the readers back in time so they can see how difficult life as a black athlete was.

Given little press and judged as inferior to white athletes, black football players had to endure struggles on and off the field. The book mentions run-ins some players had with the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) and the difficulties the teams faced when they went to away games and were denied service by all-white establishments.

In the midst of racial conflicts, Gaither and Robinson both tried to appeal to the powerful white politicians in their states to ensure financial stability, and ultimately life, for their football programs. Both coaches also tried to appeal to pro teams, pleading with them that a black athletes could compete with whites in the pros. Eddie Robinson was determined to have a black athlete start at quarterback, a traditionally white position, in the professional leagues. Ultimately, his prodigy at quarterback, Ken Harris, made history when he became the first black quarterback to start in professional football.

The book reaches its climax when Florida A&M is given the opportunity to play an all-white school in a segregated South. Freedman explains that many in the South feared that if blacks and whites were put in the same stadium, a riot would break out. This groundbreaking event proved that black athletes weren’t inferior to whites, and in fact could beat an all-white team.

This book uses the game of football to provide a thought provoking and powerful method of examining history. Freedman masterfully uses football as a context to explain the struggles black athletes experienced during an unstable period in American. Freedman leads the readers back in time so they can get a taste of what life was like as a Florida A&M and Grambling football player. The vivid detail used in the book to describe the 1967 season makes the readers feel as if they experienced it firsthand.

Breaking the Line
Breaking the Line
written by Samuel G. Freeman


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