The Black Bruins chronicles the inspirational lives of five African American athletes who faced racial discrimination as teammates at UCLA in the late 1930s. Best known among them was Jackie Robinson, a four‑star athlete for the Bruins who went on to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball and become a leader in the civil rights movement after his retirement. Joining him were Kenny Washington, Woody Strode, Ray Bartlett, and Tom Bradley—the four played starring roles in an era when fewer than a dozen major colleges had black players on their rosters. This rejection of the “gentleman’s agreement,” which kept teams from fielding black players against all-white teams, inspired black Angelinos and the African American press to adopt the teammates as their own.
Kenny Washington became the first African American player to sign with an NFL team in the post–World War II era and later became a Los Angeles police officer and actor. Woody Strode, a Bruins football and track star, broke into the NFL with Washington in 1946 as a Los Angeles Ram and went on to act in at least fifty‑seven full-length feature films. Ray Bartlett, a football, basketball, baseball, and track athlete, became the second African American to join the Pasadena Police Department, later donating his time to civic affairs and charity. Tom Bradley, a runner for the Bruins’ track team, spent twenty years fighting racial discrimination in the Los Angeles Police Department before being elected the first black mayor of Los Angeles.