Recruiting at Howard Univ., 1949 style
  • 1864 engraving of President Lincoln
  • A replica wristwatch of Lincoln’s own timepiece
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    Lincoln-Howard 1945 football classics ticket

    I can imagine Anne Tripp dressed in her best, her husband on her arm, their tickets in his hand as they approached the gate to Shibe Park in North Philadelphia. It was Thanksgiving Day 1945 and they had come to see one of the most exciting football rivalries on the East Coast.

    Lincoln University and Howard University had been butting heads and shoulders on the football field since 1894, and it would be no different on this day. For Anne and her husband Reynal, it was especially exciting because they would see his brother Warren in a Lincoln uniform.

    Decades later, she would give her ticket to her nephew Donald Hunt, a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Tribune newspaper and author of several books. He had tucked the ticket among some books and came across it recently.

    “It’s a good looking ticket,” said Hunt. “Not fancy.”

    And fancy it wasn’t. It looked to be in pretty good shape, with the lettering as bold as it was the day it was made. The game started at 2 p.m. on Nov. 22, 1945, and cost $2.50.

    A 1945 ticket for the Lincoln-Howard football game.

    Hunt had taken to heart my advice that we not throw away our family treasures, even something as simple as a ticket from a football game. He had been at a table next to mine at a Black History and Culture Showcase in April, and had undoubtedly heard me repeatedly advise people to hold on to these artifacts and find out the history behind them. He was excited that he had found the ticket from his aunt.

    “I asked her how she got,” he said. “She said, ‘I went to the game.’ She keeps a lot of things. She likes to hold on to lots of stuff of her nieces and nephews for sentimental value.”

    This ticket also held the story of the history and culture of African American college football. More than a small card, it told of how black people created their own space and filled it up with events that were decidedly theirs. It showed how they found respites of peace and plain old good fun at a time when they were stifled by prejudice and discrimination. Here, among people who looked like them and lived like them, on a day that everyone across the country was giving thanks, they could just be themselves and enjoy that being.

    For more than 50 years, tens of thousands of black people from along the East Coast and other parts of the country found their way to Philadelphia (or Washington when the game was played there) for the Lincoln-Howard Classics Game, apparently as it was known. It was described as a big, lively party with fans dressed in their Sunday best (including furs as in this 1938 photo in the Washington Afro American newspaper on a game day with foul weather), coming to see and to be seen.

    Lincoln’s president at the time, Dr. W.L. Wright,  told the newspaper: “This annual football classic tends to weld closer the friendly ties between the two institutions.”

    Another story in the newspaper mentioned how the classic had lost its charm, though, in Washington, where once “trains belched forth great gobs of happy, carefree, raccoon-coated rooters, when U Street took on a festive atmosphere equalled only by a Mardi Gras; when a round of public and private social events in both high and low places revolved on the Howard-Lincoln pivot.”

    The game drew alumni from both colleges as well as those who just loved football – their connection likely as tangential as knowing somebody who knew somebody who went to the college or just living in the area where it was located. Even some black celebrities – including Cab Calloway (who attended Lincoln but did not graduate, although his father did) and Lena Horne – were said to have shown up.

    Here’s how the game and atmosphere were described in a January 1938 Lincoln University Bulletin, referring to the 1937 game:

    “The Lincoln-Howard Football Classic resumed in Philadelphia, Thanksgiving Day, on the scene of its inauguration, after a lapse of six years, was a success in every way, from the score of 9-0 with Lincoln on the big end, to the attendance and enthusiasm which far exceeded the expectations of the most sanguine rooters. Once more it was demonstrated that Philadelphia has a warm place in its affections for Lincoln and that the Classic can draw the crowd as no other event in the life of the colored people of that city and its environs.”

    An article in the  Nov. 20, 1951, Baltimore Afro American newspaper noted the “glamour, pageantry and thrills” of that year’s upcoming game, which would be accompanied by “fancy drilling, stirring music by a championship band and the crowning of the queen of the event.” More than 25,000 people were expected to attend.

    Mascots for Lincoln University (left) and Howard University.

    “If you follow black college football and black college sports and went to an HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) school, it’s something you may want to purchase or hold on to,” said Hunt. “It is a part of history.”

    The Lincoln Lions and Howard Bisons played their first game in 1894, and faced each other off and on until 1960. The last game was played in November 1960 when Lincoln dismantled its football program. “They had a 48-year period when they stopped playing football,” Hunt said.

    In their first meet with Howard two years after the program was resumed in 2008, Howard won 28-14 in its home city, according to Hunt.

    Most of the early games in Philadelphia were played at Shibe Park (later renamed Connie Mack Stadium and closed in 1970) in North Philadelphia, where the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro Leagues played its home games. The stadium also hosted other Negro league teams and the leagues’ world series games. It was home to the major league Philadelphia Athletics and Phillies, and later the Eagles.

    In Washington, the games were played at Griffith Stadium in the Shaw neighborhood. It was used by the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues, and home to the the major league Senators and Redskins. The stadium was torn down in 1965.

    Hunt said that his mother, a Howard graduate who died a few years ago, also went to some of the games. Neither his Aunt Anne, who is now 94, nor her husband went to college, but several other aunts and uncles attended Lincoln, Howard and Cheyney University. “I’m a Lincoln man,” he pointed out.

    “HBCUs were big (back in 1945),” said Hunt. “They were big when I was there.”

    If you attended any of these Lincoln-Howard classics games, I’d love to hear your memories. You can send them with photos here.

     

     

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