ALUMNI IN ACTION
Harry Edwards' 55-Year Promise
By Julia Halprin Jackson
San José State University alumnus, renowned sports sociologist and professor emeritus of UC Berkeley Harry Edwards reached a milestone of giving to SJSU that resonates with his contributions to society — a legacy that formalizes a decades-long promise to former SJSU President Robert Clark.
“San José State was ground zero in the movement that changed, not just American perceptions, but the world’s perceptions of the significance and importance of sport and modern culture,” says Edwards, ’64 Social Science, ’16 Honorary Doctorate, who first witnessed how sports impact social change during the Civil Rights Movement at SJSU.
Throughout his career, Edwards has shone a light on the university as the birthplace of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR), a movement that united athlete-activists during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Whether he is called upon to reflect on the history of athlete activism for major television networks such as ESPN and Showtime or in short documentaries, including his Emmy-nominated “The Stage,” Edwards always brings the film crew to One Washington Square — SJSU’s campus.
“San José State has a legacy that is unparalleled anywhere else in academia — it played a pivotal role in the development of an academic discipline that looks at sport in terms of its significance and impact in modern society,” he adds. “That’s why I want the [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.] library to memorialize that history — to embrace it, to develop it and continue it, not just in terms of the Olympic Project for Human Rights and the Smith and Carlos gesture but in terms of the sociology of sport.”
To support his vision, Edwards has established the Dr. Harry Edwards Collection Endowment that funds a showcase of historical memorabilia in the Dr. Harry Edwards Collection at King Library as a start, as well as a 10-year commitment to sponsor a $1,000 Harry Edwards Social Activism Award for athlete-activists in SJSU’s Athletics Department.
“I think that San José State is the ideal place for a young athlete to be looking not only to be an academic success and an athletic success but also a success in participatory citizenship, and that’s what I hope to inspire.”
Harry Edwards filmed excerpts of a forthcoming lecture series at SJSU's Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library. Photo: Robert C. Bain.
Edwards’ hands sporting a San Francisco 49ers 2019 NFC Championship ring. Photo: Robert C. Bain.
“San José State is the ideal place for a young athlete to be looking not only to be an academic success and an athletic success, but also a success in participatory citizenship, and that’s what I hope to inspire.”
— Harry Edwards
A 55-year debt
In 1967, Edwards and Ken Noel, ’66 BA, ’68 MA Sociology, co-founded the United Black Students for Action at San José State to address housing segregation, unequal and racist treatment of student-athletes and limited educational opportunities for students of color — and organized a student boycott of the September football game against Texas Western University until the university responded to their demands.
Edwards and Noel met with then-SJSU President Robert Clark, whose support of UBSA’s strategies for creating a more inclusive environment for all Spartans led them to call off the boycott. Despite this, then-California Governor Ronald Reagan threatened to deploy the National Guard to assure that the game was not disrupted, which, in turn, inspired a band of Hells Angels motorcyclists to join the charge while Black student groups across California rallied in protest.
Edwards and Noel organized UBSA protests at SJSU in 1967. Photo: Courtesy of the Dr. Harry Edwards Collection.
To avoid potential violence, Clark canceled the game against Texas Western University, which forced the SJSU to pay $39,000 in forfeiture fees to the school and provoked the governor to order for the firing of both Edwards, who was lecturing in SJSU’s sociology department at the time (“for lawlessness,” he recalled), and Clark from SJSU.
“I promised President Clark that I would pay every cent of that $39K back to San José State with interest, and that I’d do so consistent with our efforts to make the university more non- discriminatory,” Edwards remembers more than five decades later.
The legendary Spartan has donated and facilitated gifts to date that total more than $100,000.
He plans to continue further contributions going forward. Though his legacy as a scholar, activist and professor spans decades, Edwards sees his gifts to the library and athletics as a continuation of the dialogue he started with Clark years before.
“I intended to fulfill my promise to Dr. Clark in such a way that helps sustain and perpetuate the trajectory of things we were trying to accomplish in terms of inclusion and equity,” he adds. “I’m only sad that he’s not here to see it.”
President Clark and Edwards, c. 1967. Photo: Courtesy of the Dr. Harry Edwards Collection.
Clockwise from top: In 2018, Edwards was inducted into the College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-America® Hall of Fame. Right: Edwards played basketball as an undergraduate at SJSU. Bottom left: An Olympic Project for Human Rights button. Photo: Courtesy of the Dr. Harry Edwards Collection.
Edwards visits King Library in 2016 with fellow OPHR members Gayle Boze Knowles, Mary Noel, '99 MA Education, Educational Administration Credential, and Rochelle Duff Davis, '71 Social Science. Photo: David Schmitz.
A home to sociology of sports
Edwards first established his archive at the King Library in 2016. In 2018, he contributed a second acquisition for the Power of Protest exhibit, a selection of images, posters, buttons and objects honoring the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
“The Dr. Harry Edwards Collection covers the intersection of his life’s work, which is athleticism, civil rights and sociology,” says Craig Simpson, director of Special Collections & Archives at the King Library. “The endowment that he has created, as well as the generosity of others who have contributed to it, sets the foundation for Special Collections’ overall objective, which is to support the teaching and research needs of San José State.
“The Edwards Collection provides students and scholars an opportunity to access primary sources and other unique materials pertaining to the life and career of Dr. Harry Edwards.”
By sharing personal correspondence, photographs, buttons, broadsides and even clothes of historical significance, Edwards is making history available to anyone who wishes to view it — and supporting the maintenance and digitization of his materials to ensure access for years to come.
In addition to preserving history, Edwards wants to recognize SJSU athlete-activists who use their platforms to work for social change.
This spring, he attended SJSU Athletics’ Sammy Awards ceremony to award the inaugural Harry Edwards Social Activism Award to Andrew Jenkins, ’21 Political Science, ’23 MS Justice Studies, at the 2022 Sammy Awards for SJSU student-athletes. In addition to the $1,000 scholarship, the award includes an autographed copy of his first book “The Revolt of the Black Athlete,” an original OPHR button and a customized student-athlete activist tapestry.
“The award legitimizes the [SJSU] Athletic Department’s recognition that athletes have a broader role and opportunity beyond what they achieve in athletics,” Edwards said. “We want to honor athletes who make contributions to create a better culture, a better society and a more inclusive environment, both on campus and off.”
“The Dr. Harry Edwards Collection covers the intersection of his life’s work, which is athleticism, civil rights and sociology.”
— Craig Simpson
Andrew Jenkins, ’21 Political Science, ’23 MS Justice Studies. Photo: Courtesy of SJSU Athletics.
Empowering the next generation
Inaugural Harry Edwards Social Activism Award recipient Andrew Jenkins was recognized for his leadership on the football team — he and his twin brother Tre Jenkins, ’22 Justice Studies, helped the Spartans win the Mountain West Championships in December 2020 — as well as his contributions to building a safer and more inclusive San José in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
“As a young Black and Filipino man in society, I couldn’t just stand by and watch these things happen,” Jenkins says. “Because I’m an athlete, I have a platform: People listen to me when I talk. I called [SJSU Head Football Coach Brent] Brennan and said, when you talk, people listen. We need to do something.”
Inspired by Edwards’ long-held belief in the power of the podium, Jenkins partnered with fellow athlete Christian Webb, ’19 Communications Studies, to establish SJSU’s People of Change, a student-led coalition for racial and social justice. They collaborated with Caleb Simmons, ’21 Kinesiology, and Diamond Tabron, ’21 Criminal Justice Administration, to organize a march of more than 600 San José community members on a peaceful protest, marching from SJSU’s Olympic statue to San José City Hall following Floyd’s murder. Like Edwards, Jenkins encourages people to exercise their power not only on the field but also at the ballot box.
In fall 2020, as the Spartan football team relocated to Humboldt State to practice safely during the pandemic, Jenkins began a campaign to get all eligible football players and members of the coaching staff registered to vote in time for the presidential election.
An aspiring lawyer and legal scholar, Jenkins has written papers about Edwards’ academic and activist legacy and beyond, and was thrilled to receive Edwards’ award.
“Being the first recipient of the Dr. Harry Edwards Social Activism Award means everything to me,” he reflects. “Dr. Edwards was one of my biggest idols and one of the many reasons why I am so invested in bettering the lives of minority communities. It was an honor to accept this award, and I thank everyone who has had an impact on my journey.”
“As a young Black and Filipino man in society, I couldn’t just stand by and watch these things happen.”
— Andrew Jenkins
Want to make a difference?
Top image: Harry Edwards filming a lecture at the King Library in spring 2022. Photo: Robert C. Bain.
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