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Bryant already had blacks on his team as non-scholarship walk-on players, but it wasn’t until five months after the federal suit was filed that Alabama signed its first black football player to a scholarship, Wilbur Jackson. The next year, 1971, another player became the first black to appear in a varsity football game for ‘Bama.

By August 1970 _ just weeks before Southern Cal routed an all-white Alabama team 42-21 in Birmingham, with Cunningham running for two touchdowns and 135 yards _ the file forwarded by Alabama agents to Washington included a note that Clemon had questioned Bryant under oath.

During the deposition, Bryant said his staff had been scouting black players as early as 1966. Yet he recalled telling a black high school coach that it was “a little too soon” to have a black player at Alabama and implied that the state’s racial climate was a problem.

Bryant died in 1983. Clemon said in a recent interview that black high school coaches would have testified that Alabama didn’t seem truly interested in attracting black players until after the loss to Southern California in 1970. The game was viewed by many as opening fans’ eyes to the idea that racial integration was inevitable if Alabama wanted to have a successful football program.

“Bear Bryant got religion after the USC game, and it was dismissed without trial,” said Clemon, who went on to serve in the Alabama Legislature and became the state’s first black federal judge in 1980. Now retired from the bench, he is an attorney in private practice in Birmingham.

Gentry said it wasn’t surprising that the FBI would have followed a major lawsuit involving Bryant considering how many people were being monitored at the time from all walks of life.

“They did it with actors, they did it with authors,” Gentry said. “(Hoover) had fairly extensive sports files.”

Taylor Watson, curator of a University of Alabama museum named for Bryant and dedicated to ‘Bama football, said archives including Bryant’s personal files don’t mention any reference to the FBI or indicate the coach had any interaction with the agency.

He also noted that a black player had been signed and others walked on prior to the loss to USC, even though none had played in a varsity game for Bryant.

“The idea that the Southern Cal game meant they could integrate at Alabama is the greatest myth in college sports,” Watson said.