Monday, September 22, 2008

Photographer of the "Johnny Bright Incident" dies at 91


Don Ultang, 91, died in his sleep on Sept. 18, 2008. He, along with John Robinson, won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of photos (above) that show a brutal attack on Johnny Bright, an African-American football player, during the Drake University-Oklahoma A&M football game on Oct. 20, 1951, in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The photo was shot for the Des Moines Register. The attack became known as the "Johnny Bright Incident." The photos describe a hit by a white defensive tackle from Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) on Bright, who was Drake's halfback/quarterback. Bright broke his jaw on the play but was able to remain in the game for a few more plays, including a 61-yard touchdown pass to teammate Jim Pilkington. The hit on Bright occurs right after he hands off the ball to Drake fullback Gene Macomber.

The Des Moines Register reported that Drake withdrew from the Missouri Valley Conference after the conference's officials failed to discipline the Oklahoma A&M player. Upon reporting Ultang's death last week, the Des Moines Register wrote:
    The photographs highlighted the racial tension in the years preceding the civil rights era, made the cover of Life magazine and won Ultang and Robinson the Pulitzer Prize, journalism's highest award.

    The photographers "didn't really know what they had until they got back to the photo lab," said Paul Morrison, a Drake sports historian who witnessed the Bright incident.
Bright was seen as the country's first black Heisman Trophy candidate. The injury ended any hope of a Heisman Trophy for Bright, who later was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round in 1952. Bright, however, opted for the Canadian Football League, where he played for the Calgary Stampeders. Bright was later quoted about his decision: "I would have been their (the Eagles') first Negro player. There was a tremendous influx of Southern players into the NFL at that time, and I didn't know what kind of treatment I could expect." Bright spent most of his career in the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos. Bright, who became a citizen of Canada in 1962, died of a heart attack in 1983 at age 53 in Edmonton. Drake named the football field Johnny Bright Field in 2006. Bright was named first-team All-American in 1951 and he is the only player to have his jersey (No. 43) retired.

As for Ultang, his daughter Joanne Ultang said, "He would say he was just in the right place at the right time."


Anonymous said...

I didn't know that, the Pulitzer! I think the guy was a great photographer to won that prize. I've been seeing his photos and I think you need more time to add each one, like Buy Kamagra website really does.

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