FAYETTEVILLE — When Darrell Brown arrived on the University of Arkansas campus in the fall of 1965, he wasn’t focused on changing the face of Razorback Football forever. The first African-American student-athlete to join the football team at the University of Arkansas, Brown had a much more modest goal in mind.
Growing up in Horatio, a town in Southwest Arkansas, Brown never had the opportunity to compete in organized athletics while attending Sevier County High School. During his senior year at the segregated school, the state announced that the following year Horatio High School would be integrated for the first time.
Brown begged his mother to let him return to high school one more year so he could participate in sports, but Snowie Brown, a long-time educator, would have nothing of it. It was time to get a college degree. Although he was moving on in his education, Brown turned the disappointment of losing one athletic opportunity into another one and ultimately a plethora of opportunities for others down the road.
“That frustration of not being able to go to the white school, which was going to be integrated the year after I graduated, prompted me to think if I am going to go to the University of Arkansas, I am going to play football,” Brown says. “That is what I wanted to do. I never had a chance to play organized football and this was my chance. When they admitted me to the University of Arkansas, I said ‘I can do exactly what I wanted to do in high school, but in college.’”
Brown arrived on a campus facing issues of the times, including the integration of the overall student body, but Brown didn’t let any of those outside influences deter him from his primary mission.
“I just went down to the field house and said, ‘I’m Darrell Brown and I want to play football,’” Brown says. “Obviously I didn’t get a standing ovation at that time, but they said okay. I don’t know what went on behind the scenes, but they said okay and issued me equipment.”
A tailback and a cornerback, Brown joined the Shoats squad, a team of younger players that would practice against the varsity squad in a part of practice called “fourth quarter.” Brown lined up across the line from several notable Razorback legends, including College Football Hall of Famer Ronnie Caveness.
The Shoats could take on some daunting tasks competing against the varsity team, but not all of Brown’s difficulties as a Razorback football player came on the field. Some of his teammates helped him face those obstacles as well, offering much needed encouragement along the way. Brown is quick to credit a number of teammates, including David Hargis, Bruce Maxwell and Terry Don Phillips, for their support.
Brown practiced with the Razorbacks throughout the fall and again in the spring of 1966 before suffering a significant injury. At that time, he decided to put aside his athletic aspirations to concentrate on his educational goals. Brown earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Arkansas in 1969 and then graduated from the UA Law School in 1972.
“I was a little ole country boy that had a dream,” Brown says. “I was just playing football and I didn’t understand or grasp the significance of what was going on. I just wanted to be a part of what everybody had an opportunity to do. That was just my dream. I wanted to be a Razorback and I wanted to play football.”
Although Brown never played a down for the Razorbacks, he helped lead the way for the thousands of African-American student-athletes who would soon follow. Little did he know he was also blazing a trail for his own family. Three of Darrell and Angela Brown’s children would go on to attend the University of Arkansas, including daughter Dee Dee Brown-Campbell, who earned All-America honors as a track and field student-athlete for the Razorbacks.
“To this day, when the Razorbacks are playing, regardless of my history, I want to look out, see them and hear them,” Brown says. “I had a daughter and two sons who came behind me. I never tried to dissuade them from attending the University of Arkansas. I would never say anything to dissuade anyone else from attending the University of Arkansas because I think the University of Arkansas has something to give.”