The UK football program held a ceremony Thursday night unveiling its new statue which honors the four players responsible for the racial integration of the Southeastern Conference.
The statue celebrates the 50th anniversary of Nate Northington and Greg Page’s arrival on UK’s campus, with Wilbur Hackett and Houston Hogg joining them a year later, as the group persevered through racial discrimination to become the SEC’s first African-American football players.
Of the four trailblazers, it was Northington who broke the color barrier in the SEC appearing in UK’s game at home against Ole Miss on Sept. 30, 1967. Northington was forced to tackle this feat alone because of the tragic passing away of Page the day prior after suffering a neck injury during a practice.
“We played a role in making the SEC the most dominant and most financially successful sports athletic conference in America today,” Northington said. “The journey was not without some difficult and tragic times.”
When Northington’s time at UK ended it was Hackett and Hogg who took up the torch, continuing to forge a path for African-American student athletes. Also a few years later in 1969, Hackett went on to receive the honor of being named the SEC’s first African-American team captain in any sport.
The SEC’s color barrier in basketball was also broke in 1967 by Perry Wallace at Vanderbilt University. UK’s basketball team, however, stayed segregated until 1970 despite efforts to recruit African-American players starting in mid-1960s.
The statue, cast in bronze, is located on a pedestal in front of UK football’s new training facility and features all four players standing in uniform side by side.
“It’s to be a constant reminder of what these four men did to transform our program, our school, and the Southeastern Conference,” UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart said.
The event wraps up a year’s worth of effort that went into the production of the statue, which was designed and sculpted by J. Brett Grill, 37. Grill started the design process by first interviewing the three living honorees, Page’s brother Melvin Page and former teammates of the group.
Grill is also the designer and sculptor of the UK basketball’s Joe B. Hall statue, which features the former head coach leaning forward in a chair with his trademark rolled up program in hand in front of the Wildcat Coal Lodge. The statue was the first piece Grill produced for the program and the positive reviews of it played a part in him being commissioned again by the university to produce this monument.
The statue is the second way the four players have been honor by UK football thus far, as they were also the inspiration behind this year’s team poster. Four current UK player modeled the trailblazers wearing their number uniforms with the statement “Make a Stand” written underneath.
“As our poster for our football season said, these four men made a stand. It’s a stand that still resonates today,” Barnhart said. “It doesn’t promise victories. It doesn’t promise anything unique on the scoreboard. What it does is it challenges young people, young men to make a stand for what’s right and what they believe in.”