UB football in the South:
a "first" for Leeland Jones
Something for the record books? Well, I didn't think of it that way. Not in my life," says Leeland N. Jones Jr. When Jones took to the football field at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in 1941, he didn't realize he was making history. "I just went out there to play," says Jones, now a retired assistant vice president at Erie Community College and a former UB Council member. But history it was-Jones was the first African-American on an integrated UB football team to play on a field south of the Mason-Dixon line. And he may have been the first black man in the country to do so.
The event wasn't without stress and trauma for Jones, who attended UB between 1940 and 1948, with his studies interrupted for World War II army service.
"The game against Johns Hopkins was arranged by the coaches," says Jones. They had heard no objections to Jones playing there, he recalls. "I'd never faced discrimination," he says, but "things changed when we arrived in Baltimore. I wasn't allowed in either of the white hotels where the rest of the team was staying."
Jones remembers being transported alone to a "black" hotel in another part of the city. But he didn't spend the night there. "Black journalists sent someone for me," Jones says, and he was taken to the home of Dr. Carl Murphy, a prominent black citizen who lived near the campus of Morgan State University. "It was a beautiful place and he had three lovely daughters," Jones says. Several years later, he married one of those daughters.
It wasn't until team members had their 50th reunion a few years ago "that the others even realized I wasn't allowed in the hotels," says Jones. "Since we split up, everyone figured I was in the other hotel."
Jones, a star player for UB, was inducted into the UB Athletic Hall of Fame in 1987, but he regards his greatest contribution to UB football to be his son, Leeland A. Jones. The younger Jones, now a psychiatrist and a UB Medical School faculty member, once led the nation in touchdowns scored as a running back with the Bulls.