Tide offensive lineman Jimmy Rosser recalled that before [Wilbur] Jackson enrolled and Mitchell was recruited, Bryant “told us that he was going to get the best athletes available to play for us and that included black players. He then proceeded to tell us that if any of you didn’t like that, then you could get the hell out of here, because that was the way it was going to be. None of the players left the meeting.”
Still, Mitchell knew what world he was entering because of the world he was raised in. He attended segregated schools in Mobile, and his Williamson High School team was barred from playing at Ladd Stadium, even though it was across the street. He only saw black players there when he sold sodas in the stands at the Senior Bowl, he recalled.
Having lived that life, what greeted him on campus was an adjustment: He had never had white teachers before, nor white classmates, and he was the only black student in each of his classes in Tuscaloosa. The black enrollment at the time — about 3% of 15,000 students — meant this for him: “You wouldn’t see an African American student for three or four days.”
I remember very well what I felt when John Mitchell — the first black football player at the University of Alabama, the first black captain of the team (elected by his teammates), the first black assistant coach (immediately after his graduation at age 20) — and other black players arrived on the scene. I was about twelve. I felt that a Dark Age had ended. I was sure that we in Alabama would soon put racism behind us. Finally, all that would be over.