AU family mourns loss of school’s first African American footbal - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

AU family mourns loss of school’s first African American football player

James Owens was the first African American scholarship player for the Auburn Tigers. (Source: Auburn SID) James Owens was the first African American scholarship player for the Auburn Tigers. (Source: Auburn SID)
AUBURN, AL (WTVM) -

The Auburn University family is mourning the loss of a legend who broke racial barriers in the Deep South both on and off the football field.

James Owens was the first African American scholarship player for the Auburn Tigers. 

On Saturday, the former Auburn University fullback passed away, leaving behind a legacy of courage. Owens was 65 years old, and suffered from heart problems.

Family and friends say Owens lived life much like he played football as #43 for the Auburn Tigers: no matter what obstacle or barrier, Owens powered through with grace and dignity.

He was a man who suffered through racism and discrimination, so he could pave the way for others during a time when many believed African Americans shouldn't be playing football with white players.

"James Owens was a trailblazer, a legend and a great Auburn man. James changed Auburn for the better and opened doors for countless young men and women. We are deeply saddened by his passing," said Auburn University Head Football Coach Gus Malzahn.

In 1969, Auburn assistant Jim Hilyer offered Owens the opportunity to break the color barrier at Auburn.

Owens was mostly supported by his teammates and rose above the racial slurs he heard on and off the field along with the unfairness of being of being kicked out of barbershops and bartenders refusing to serve him.
 
He played four years at Auburn, his last year on the historic AU 72 Amazin's team that featured "Punt Bama Punt."
              
"James Owens was the epitome of courage. All of us at Auburn are forever indebted to him for the grace and courage he showed in being our first African-American player. It takes a special person to break down barriers and be first.  My heart is broken, but I am inspired by what James meant to Auburn and to me. He taught those of us who played the game how to be courageous with quiet humility. My heart goes out to his family and friends," said AU Athletic Director Jay Jacobs.

There is a scholarship in his name at Auburn University, and a movie was made in 2015 about his life called "Quiet Courage." 

He will be missed by the Auburn family.

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