The Oakland Raiders have a long tradition of drafting or finding contributing players from historically black colleges, a trend that continues to this day.
There was once a time in sports where the cream of the crop athletes came from historically black colleges. Segregation may seem prehistoric when you now have institutions like Duke University suiting up five black starters on the hardwood, but a player of color at a predominantly white school was once an anomaly.
Eventually, integration allowed black players to abandon schools like Grambling State and Hampton for powerhouses like Auburn and LSU. The trickle effect led to a significant drop in players drafted from these schools into the NFL. But the Oakland Raiders are a team that has always given players from historically black colleges and universities a chance, and the franchise still continues to do so even to this day.
Legendary late Raiders owner Al Davis was still the wide receivers coach for the San Diego Chargers when the Raiders drafted fullback Preston Powell in 1961. Powell became the first Raider who was from a historically black college (Grambling), but he sure wouldn’t be the last. Davis took over as Head Coach in 1963, and by 1966, he was part Owner and General Manager. Davis lived by the motto of “speed kills” and he drafted athletes on both sides of the ball that exemplified exactly that.
The first player Davis ever drafted from an HBCU was Carleton Oats out of Florida A&M in 1964, who would go on to help the Raiders win the 1967 AFL Championship. Also on that team was future Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown of Grambling State, who Davis traded for in the beginning of the season.
One year later, Davis would draft offensive tackle Art Shell out of Maryland Eastern Shore. Shell went on to become one of the greatest linemen in NFL history, playing his entire 15-year career in Silver and Black and earning 8 Pro Bowl nominations along the way. He was ranked no. 76 on the NFL’s Top 100 players of all-time list and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989 — the same year Davis hired him to become the first African-American head coach in NFL history.
The same 1968 draft that produced Shell also yielded three other HBCU players, most notably George Atkinson and Eldridge Dickey. Atkinson was a key member of the “Soul Patrol” secondary alongside “Dr. Death” Skip Thomas, twice being named an AFL All-Star as well as becoming a Super Bowl champion. Dickey was the first ever black quarterback drafted in the first round by an NFL or AFL team.
Through the 1970’s, Davis would draft more than 10 players from HBCU’s, including Morgan State four-time Pro Bowler Raymond Chester and FAMU two-time Pro Bowler Henry Lawrence. By the 1980’s, highly touted black athletes began choosing major Division I programs over HBCU’s by an overwhelming majority — a trend that exists to this day. Yet that never stopped Davis from taking a chance, continuing to find HBCU studs all the way until his passing in 2011.
Prior to Super Bowl LI in 2016, the NFL honored the 29 players from HBCU schools that have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and three of those players donned Silver and Black in their playing days — Shell and Brown being the most prominent.
General Manager Reggie McKenzie took over the reigns in 2012, and he has continued Davis’ legacy of finding contributing players from historically black colleges. A few of these players include Fort Valley State University’s Marquette King and West Alabama’s Seth Roberts, both of whom have been key players for the Raiders despite being undrafted. In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Raiders selected Alabama State’s Jylan Ware in the seventh round, who could one day join the list of notable players from historically black colleges.