It’s no coincidence that professional football and baseball in Texas both integrated in 1952—and the breakthrough started on the gridiron.

Three Black players—Sherman Howard, George Taliaferro, and Claude “Buddy” Young—were on the 1951 roster of the NFL’s financially strapped New York Yanks when Dallas businessmen Giles and Connell Miller bought the franchise in January ’52 and moved it to the Cotton Bowl.

The Millers didn’t think twice about bringing Black athletes to Jim Crow Texas, according to author Mike Cobern, whose book about the Dallas Texans’ 1952 season, Wards of the League, is scheduled for release by TCU Press this summer. Similarly, the team’s general manager, Frank Fitzgerald, was quoted in the New York Daily News saying the players were prepared to make the move.

Then, just days after the Texans announced their move, Dick Burnett, the owner of the Texas League baseball club the Dallas Eagles, saw the arrival of Black football players as a green light to integrate his roster. “It would appear the color line has been broken,” Burnett said in the Dallas Morning News. Soon thereafter, the Eagles signed Dave Hoskins, a veteran pitcher who’d spent several seasons in the Negro Leagues.

Sherman Howard never made the trip to Dallas. David Fleming, who wrote about the Texans for ESPN, said Howard was traded to the Cleveland Browns. Howard’s daughter, Vietta Robinson, told Texas Monthly her father had a wife and newborn in Chicago and preferred to stay close to them.

Taliaferro and Young both played running back. Young, who stood all of five-foot-four and weighed 175 pounds, had played college ball at Illinois and was known as the “Bronze Bullet.” Taliaferro, another Big Ten product out of Indiana University, made history as the first Black player selected in the NFL Draft after the Chicago Bears picked him in the thirteenth round in 1949. (Before Taliaferro, Black players typically entered the NFL as undrafted free agents.)

According to Cobern’s research, the Texans made efforts to treat Taliaferro and Young the same as any other player on the roster, but things were different in the outside world. Taliaferro’s widow, Viola, described the racism she experienced in author Dawn Knight’s 2007 biography of her husband, Taliaferro. “There was not a day in Dallas that she felt they were treated with the respect and equality they deserved,” Knight wrote.

Green Bay Packers defensive back Bobby Dillion (44) stops Dallas Texans running back George Taliaferro (20) during an NFL game in Green Bay, Wisc., on Nov. 23, 1952.
George Taliaferro is tackled during a Dallas Texans game against the Green Bay Packers in November 1952.Vernon Biever/AP

Maybe it was no coincidence that the Dallas Eagles integrated the Texas League. They were a farm club of the Cleveland Indians, the second big-league team to integrate with Larry Doby, just three months after Jackie Robinson’s April 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Hoskins made his regular-season debut for the Eagles at a home game on April 13, 1952, against Tulsa at Oak Cliff’s Burnett Field, which featured segregated seating. Dallas won 4–2 as the visiting Oilers left fourteen men on base. Despite the win, Hoskins thought he could have pitched better and said nerves didn’t play a role in his performance. “I don’t suppose I put four curveballs where I wanted, and I got only one change-up pitch over the plate,” he said in the Morning News.

The signing of Hoskins proved to be a hit on and off the field. He led the league with 22 wins as the Eagles finished in first place. Bruce Adelson wrote in his 1999 book Brushing Back Jim Crow of an early-season game in Dallas in which hundreds of Black fans stood and watched from behind the left-field fence because their segregated portion of the stands at Burnett Field was already full. Meanwhile, plenty of seats remained available in the part of the venue reserved for white spectators. Segregated seating soon ended at Burnett Field.

Hoskins’s presence also attracted big crowds on the road. A local record gathering of 7,378 in Shreveport, Louisiana, turned out for Dallas’s game there on June 9. That morning, Hoskins received three threatening letters about what would occur if he took the field that day. Nothing happened, Hoskins and the Eagles won.

“The people treated me very nice in Dallas and everywhere else,” Hoskins told the Sporting News the following spring. “Once in a while a ballplayer or a fan would holler something at me, but you’ve got to expect that.”

The Eagles added José Santiago, considered their second Black player according to Adelson, in May. Before the season was out, the league’s Oklahoma City club also integrated its roster.

Back on the gridiron, the Texans hosted the Detroit Lions in their first and only home exhibition game. Before the Texans arrived in Dallas, the Lions had been the city’s adopted NFL team because former SMU star Doak Walker went on to play pro ball in the Motor City. Walker was beginning his third season with the Lions as they made a third consecutive preseason trip to the Cotton Bowl.

Pregame coverage indicated that the Texans hoped a crowd of 35,000 would show up for the Lions game. The official attendance was reported at 34,035 as the Texans lost 21–14. But behind that impressive number, there was tension. Black fans who came out to the Cotton Bowl that Friday night were only permitted to sit in end-zone seats. Even Viola Taliaferro and Buddy Young’s wife, Geraldine, were seated in the stadium’s segregated area.

Knight wrote: “When the Texans’ owners noticed where the two women were sitting, they invited them to sit in the section with the other players’ wives. To make a point, the two women declined the offer, refusing to leave the ‘colored’ section of the field. ‘No, it is your practice that Black people sit together, and that’s exactly where I am going to sit,’ Viola Taliaferro told them.”

Weeks later, when Dallas held its regular season home opener against the New York Giants, the attendance was estimated at 17,500—half the number of spectators who showed up for the exhibition game. According to Fleming, who’s working on a book about the Texans, many Black fans in Dallas stayed away that day because of the seating policy at the exhibition game while some white fans withheld support because they didn’t want to cheer for a team that featured Black players.

The segregated seating was soon discontinued, Knight wrote, but Texans games at the Cotton Bowl that season drew increasingly small crowds. Not helping the cause was a team that lost its first six games. The Texans played a home game against the Los Angeles Rams on November 9, days after ownership held a reorganizational meeting, with the franchise drowning in red ink. The headline on Dallas Times Herald sports editor Louis Cox’s column that morning included: “Big Crowd Sunday Will Help.”

Mother Nature apparently wasn’t on board; it poured in Dallas that Sunday. About 10,000 attendees showed to the game, most of whom sought shelter beneath the Cotton Bowl’s upper decks. The Texans lost yet again.

And they never played in Dallas again. Before the week was out, the franchise was “surrendered” back to the league and headquartered in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The Texans had two games remaining on their home schedule, against Chicago and Detroit. They faced the Bears in Akron, Ohio, and pulled off what one reporter from the Chicago Tribune called one of the greatest upsets in NFL history. The “hopeless, homeless, hapless what-have-you Texans,” as characterized in the Akron Beacon Journal, shocked the Bears 27–23, pulling ahead with a touchdown in the game’s final minute. Taliaferro, who’d played quarterback in college, threw the team’s only touchdown pass of the game.

It was the Texans’ first win of the season—and their last. The Lone Star State’s first foray into big-league team sports ended with one win, eleven losses, and an abrupt departure before season’s end. The following year, the franchise became the Baltimore Colts.

Dave Hoskins reached the Majors in 1953 with Dallas’s big-league affiliate in Cleveland. He pitched the full season, winning nine and losing three, made fifteen more major-league appearances in 1954, then pitched in the minors for another six years.

George Taliaferro played two seasons with the Colts and one with the Philadelphia Eagles. Knight wrote that Tony Dungy, the first Black coach to win a Super Bowl, praised Taliaferro in a 2004 interview: “While growing up, it was important to see guys like George. It allowed you to dream that one day you could do it.”

Buddy Young played three seasons in Baltimore and had his number retired. He joined the Colts’ front office upon retirement and was hired to work at the NFL league office in 1964—two years after Washington became the final NFL franchise to integrate its roster. While working for the league, Young wrote a memo titled “Some Observations on the NFL and Negro Players,” in which he urged each team to hire at least one Black executive in its front office “for the expressed purpose of communicating with representatives of the African American community.” Black professionals “should be represented as much on the sidelines, in the front-office, and in the background as on the field,” he wrote. “Deliberate pains should be taken to assure their presence.”

The distribution of the 1966 memo included a note from then-commissioner Pete Rozelle: “Please give it your careful consideration.” Twenty-three years later, the Los Angeles Raiders’ Art Shell became the first Black head coach of the NFL’s modern era.