Standing up to racism; a look back at a night of unity for Iowa State football in 1959

Published: Sep. 2, 2020 at 12:54 AM CDT
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - In 1959 Iowa State had a football season for the history books. With only 30 healthy players on the roster, the team nick named the “Dirty Thirty” won 7 games, and had a shot at sharing a conference title with a win at Oklahoma in the final game of the season. While the game didn’t go the way Iowa State was hoping, what took place before the game that weekend in Oklahoma was a moment of unity that the players still carry with them to this day.

When Iowa State arrived to Oklahoma for one of the biggest games in program history, the Cyclones were met with racism at the team hotel.

“There were five black football players standing looking at each other wondering what’s going on? And the guy who gave the ticket said we don’t allow black people to stay in this hotel, you have to find some place else to stay” said former Iowa State left guard Tom Ferrebee.

Head  coach Clay Stapleton quickly made it known, his team would not tolerate racism

“Coach Stapleton came down and from the way I get it is he had somebody call out to the airport and we were flying TWA then he says pull the planes out we’re going back”.

Soon after Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson was notified of the situation.

“He had one of two helicopters in the State that’s what I, don’t know this for a fact but this is what I’ve been told and he came down there and straightened it out”.

Later that night as a team, the Cyclones went to see a movie.

“We were sharp. We had blue blazers, Iowa State crest on it, grey slacks, I mean everybody was together, we didn’t move unless we moved as a team”.

When they arrived at the theater, once again the Cyclones were met with racism

“The guy who’s taking the tickets he says all you black fellas go upstairs into the lobby, the balcony and coach I think it was coach and Bob Ward were there with us and they says and I was standing right next to Ward he says you see all those blue jackets out there, you don’t have anybody else in the show, nobody else paid you a dime and they never separate and if we have to sit in the balcony we’ll all go up into the balcony and he says but my guys are gonna sit right down here and watch the movie”.

The Iowa States coaches epitomized what being a team is all about.

“He did some things for me that most people don’t know anything about it but they were things that stuck with me for all of my life”.

Iowa State did not win the 1959 game at Oklahoma, but the team did finish tied for 3rd place in the conference. Coach Stapleton was inducted into Iowa State’s Hall of Fame in 2006.

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