The Clark Kerr era in the history of the University of California (1952–1967) was marked by momentous social and cultural upheaval, much of which was fought out across the UC system's then eight campuses, particularly Berkeley and UCLA. No issue sparked greater student action than civil rights, which was a challenge that Kerr confronted first as Berkeley chancellor and then as president of the entire UC system. This challenge was met in every area of the university's affairs, including its athletics programs. Kerr demanded that the university's teams schedule games with the nation's most prestigious colleges and universities, whose academic profiles matched its own. These included segregated southern institutions, whose varsity teams were still composed entirely of white athletes and, in some cases, demanded the segregation of competitors by race. These games presented unique challenges for a university that Kerr considered “a portal open to all able young people,” since such competitive and commercial affiliations with segregated institutions called into question the university's sincerity in committing itself to equal educational opportunity. By digging deeply in the university archives at both Berkeley and UCLA, this article reveals how Kerr and his administration promoted the university's affiliation with these southern institutions without taking the racial politics of these games into serious consideration. In turn, the article reassesses the university's racial record in the Kerr era and its commitment to protecting the civil rights of the black student athletes who competed on its varsity teams.

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