Top 50 Cal Sports Moments -- No. 28: Racial Cancellation, 1923

In March of 1923, the annual Stanford-Cal team boxing match was canceled because Stanford did not want its boxers to compete against Cal's Black boxers
San Francisco Chronicle sports page, March 9, 1923
San Francisco Chronicle sports page, March 9, 1923 /

As the Pac-12 Conference era comes to a close after more than a century, we count down the Top 50 moments involving Cal athletics.

THE MOMENT: On Thursday, March 8, 1923, Cal received word that Stanford would not participate in the annual team boxing match scheduled to be held the next night in Berkeley because Cal was entering two boxers who were Black. It set off a series of series of competing passionate opinions presented in local newspapers.

THE STORY: Boxing became a sport at Cal in 1907, and Cal and Stanford began having team boxing matches against each other in 1916. Cal planned to have Walter Gordon, a state boxing champion and all-American football player who was Black, compete against Stanford, but two days before the first Cal-Stanford boxing match, Stanford said it would not compete if Gordon participated. Cal substituted another boxer for Gordon that year, but the next year, when the event was held in Berkeley, Cal left Gordon in its lineup.  With the match tied at three wins apiece heading into the final bout featuring Gordon, the Stanford boxer forfeited, losing the team match for Stanford.

In 1922, Stanford again forfeited a bout in which the Cal boxer was Black, and the next year Cal had two Black boxers – Errol Jones and Melvin Johnson -- on its team ready to challenge Stanford in the team match scheduled for Friday, March 9, 1923, at Cal’s Harmon Gym (now Haas Pavilion).

The day before the scheduled team match, Stanford notified Cal officials that it would not participate in Friday’s meet because it would permit its white boxers to compete against Cal’s Black boxers.  Part of the dispute was Stanford’s claim that Cal had agreed not to enter Black boxers in future meets against Stanford, while Cal officials insisted they had made no such agreement.

The front page of the San Francisco Chronicle’s sports section on March 9, 1923, carried a huge headline, “Stanford Draws Color Line; Cancels U.C. Ring Bouts,” and began its report this way: “Stanford University, March 8 – Stanford University has drawn the color line, at least so far as boxing contests are concerned. Today word went forth officially to the University of California that the Cardinal Institution has cancelled the boxing contests to have been held tomorrow [Friday] evening at Harmon Gym on the California campus.”

Later in the story was this information about Stanford’s decision: “Stanford in an official statement issued by Dr. W.H. Barrow, director of physical education at Stanford, while stating that there is no desire to draw the color line, adds that it felt that a boxing match between a white man and a Negro engenders race prejudice.” 

Cal responded with this, according to the Chronicle: “We feel that a man in the University of California, regardless of race, class or color, has just as much right in equity to make an athletic team as any other classification. We cannot bar an athlete simply because he is Black or of any other race than the white.”

The Daily Californian carried the news on the front page of its March 9 edition, and later included this excerpt from an editorial: “This policy will remain unchanged because it is good. The sudden action of Stanford is more than regrettable. It represents a perverted idea of sportsmanship.”

Daily California front page March 9, 1923
Daily California front page March 9, 1923 /

The Stanford Daily responded with an editorial that included this excerpt: “The existence of race prejudice cannot be denied, and whether or not it is justified, promoting bouts between men of different color can do nothing but antagonize that feeling.”

Cal had several examples of racial discrimination on its campus in 1923, but the boxing issue received the headlines that March. Stanford and Cal would not face each other again in boxing for five years.

*Top 30 Moment No. 29: Cart Blanche, 2006

*Top 50 Moment No. 30: Frightening Fall, 2009

Only specific acts that occurred while the team or athlete was at Cal were considered for the Top 50 list, and accomplishments spanning a season or a career were not included. 

Leslie Mitchell of the Cal Bears History Twitter site aided in the selection of the top 50 moments.

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Jake Curtis

JAKE CURTIS

Jake Curtis worked in the San Francisco Chronicle sports department for 27 years, covering virtually every sport, including numerous Final Fours, several college football national championship games, an NBA Finals, world championship boxing matches and a World Cup. He was a Cal beat writer for many of those years, and won awards for his feature stories.