Nate Washington, the first African American football player in the SEC. Credit: Louisville Courier Journal
This afternoon, the University of Kentucky announced a plan to build four statues honoring the lives and legacies of Greg Page, Nat Northington, Wilbur Hackett, and Houston Hogg–the first four African-American football players at UK and in the South Eastern Conference (SEC). Who were these young men? Two of them were Kentuckians by birth.
To celebrate this announcement, we hope you will enjoy learning a little bit about Nat Northington from his entry in The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia.
Northington, Nate “Nat” (b. 1947, Louisville, KY), football player.
Nate “Nat” Northington was born to William E and Flossie in Louisville, Kentucky on October 17, 1947. He was an outstanding high school football player. His junior year at Thomas Jefferson High School in Louisville, he led the team in touchdowns. His senior year he excelled in academics as well becoming an officer and member of the Beta Club and National Honor Society. He was recruited by the University of Kentucky (UK) as a wideout receiver alongside Greg Page, also African-American, with the intent of being a model for other Southern schools to integrate their athletic teams. The recruitment process was led in part by former Kentucky Governor Edward T. Breathitt, who at the time was the Chairman of the Board of Trustees at UK.
In 1967, Northington’s roommate Greg Page suffered a neck injury during practice which left him paralyzed from the nose down. Page would die thirty-eight days later from his injuries. The next afternoon, Northington would break the SEC color barrier as a wideout receiver for UK in a home loss to the University of Mississippi. On September 30, 1967, he became the first African-American football player to play in a game in the Southeastern Conference, an athletic conference openly reluctant to racially desegregate. Northington would then leave the UK in the following weeks after the Mississippi game. Being the only black varsity player, Northington expressed the loneliness and distress that he felt, “I can tell you every brick in my room. All I do is talk to my walls.” Shortly after leaving the team in 1967, he transferred to Western Kentucky University where he received a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
After graduation, Northington headed the Bowling Green Housing Authority and later was a staffer at the Louisville Housing Authority. He would eventually become the regional director of property management with the Louisville Metro Housing Authority and serve as licensed minister at his church.
The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia is available now from your favorite bookseller or www.kentuckypress.com.