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FAMU Professor Plans Documentary On Legendary Football Coach Jake Gaither

A tall, dark-skinned man wearing a Florida A&M University t-shirt, and shorts, clutches a football while surrounded by players
State Archives of Florida
Florida Memory

November 29th marked 50 years since the first time a black school and white school in the south faced off on the football field. The matchup featured Florida A&M University and the University of Tampa. Now, a documentary about the life of FAMU's legendary football coach Jake Gaither is in the works.

FAMU history Professor Yanela McLeod says she'd been thinking about a documentary on Gaither for nearly a decade. Her work got underway about two years ago. 

“My documentary is focusing on is the humanitarian. And how he was able to shape people’s consciousness during a very tumultuous time—the Civil Rights Era—to get them to change their ideas about African-Americans,” McLeod said. 

Fifty years ago, FAMU played an historic game in Tampa, squaring off against the predominately white private school, the University of Tampa. McLeod says the game was Gaither's opportunity to show a black college team could beat a white team and prove he wasn't only a great black coach, but a great coach. FAMU would go on to win that match-up. 

Fifty Years On, Remembering The Tampa Football Game That Broke Racial BarriersFifty years ago, a college football game in Tampa helped change the course of race relations in America. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, November 29, 1969, a predominantly white school played an all black university in the Deep South for the first time.

Multiple schools, including Florida State University and the University of Florida, rejected the offer to play FAMU. Gaither however, would find a like mind in University of Tampa's coach Fran Curie. 

“As I interviewed coach Curcie—Fran Curci who was the the University of Tampa coach, he said, ‘no one wanted to play them because no one wanted to take the chance of being beat.'" McLeod explained.

The documentary is called “Changing the Game: The Jake Gaither Story. McLeod and her team of FAMU professors and alumni are trying to raise $250,000 to finance the project. Information on the documentary can be found at jakegaitherstory.com

Listen here for the full 15-minute interview

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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