Black Student-Athletes: Achievement and Activism

Emery Moore PhiPsi1968.tif

Emery Moore was among the first Black student-athletes at Elon.

In the years after integration, athletics provided an important route for Black students to attend Elon. In the 1970s and 1980s, for instance, between one-quarter and one-third of Black students at Elon played a sport.83 Emery Moore, a standout running back, had forged the path when he arrived in 1966 to play football. 

Emery, as well as his older brother Ralph Moore, who transferred to Elon from Notre Dame to follow his brother, arrived precisely when sports commentators were calling attention to the struggles Black athletes faced at predominantly White institutions.84 In a four-part series in Sports Illustrated, for instance, Jack Olsen reported that “Black collegiate athletes say they are dehumanized, exploited and discarded.” The first Black student-athletes at Elon appear to have encountered some of these frustrations and to have responded by turning to activism — at first as individuals but ultimately in solidarity with other Black students. 

There is much more to learn about the first generation of Black student-athletes at Elon, but the available information suggests they fought for inclusion as Elon students while representing their school. The Moore brothers exemplified this pattern of performance on the field and advocacy off of it. Ralph played football, ran track and wrestled — a rare talent. His younger brother, Emery, led the football team in rushing for three consecutive seasons (1967–69), while Ralph set school records in discus and javelin.87 At the same time, the brothers gave indications that they did not feel fully welcome. Emery did not once have his portrait taken for the yearbook, for example. Ralph took to the pages of Veritas, the unofficial student paper, to educate his fellow students about Black Americans’ claims to full equality. The “Dear Beverly Axelrod” column, which he published for several months in 1968 and 1969, was easily the most direct assault on White supremacy any student paper published during the period.

In February 1969, for instance, he called out the unconscious fear of Black male achievement that animated many of those opposed to Civil Rights: “The White egoist will not only resent the use of the word fear, in reference to his relationship with Black men, but he might be totally unconscious of its presence. It is this subconscious fear that must be dealt with, for it weakens the minds of its White slaves. It warps and breaks any humanitarianism within its reach.”88 Neither Moore brother graduated. Ralph, at least, was hurt enough that he did not list Elon in his bio in later years, though he did list Notre Dame, where he did not play a snap.


Vanessa Corbett ’82, who played women’s basketball from 1978 to 1982, received a long-overdue honor in February 2020 when Elon retired her jersey. 

Black student-athletes at Elon in the 1960s and 1970s overcame many of the barriers to academic success that their peers at other institutions experienced. Star athletes such as women’s basketball standout Vanessa Corbett ’82 overcame both gender- and race-based challenges on and off the court to make extraordinary contributions in intercollegiate competition. Corbett played women’s basketball from 1978 to 1982 and set just about every record possible, including several enduring career records (among them points, points per game and field goals made).

Black student athletes in Corbett’s cohort graduated at or above the rate of White students. There are no published graduation rates for Black students during this period, but media guides identify at least 22 unique Black student-athletes from the 1975–76 academic year whose names may be cross-referenced with published graduation lists for the next five years. Between 1976 and 1980, 10 (45 percent) of Corbett’s Black peers appeared on the official graduation lists. While this seems like a discouragingly low number at first glance, it exceeds the overall five-year graduation rate for students entering in similar years by several percentage points.

Corbett finally received a long-overdue honor in February 2020 when Elon retired her jersey, but other Black pioneers have fallen from memory. Restoring the memory of these pioneers can be complex. Not all athletes who gave their blood and sweat to the institution want to return or to claim their place in Elon's history, suggesting that for some the cost of persistence was high.


Committee on Elon History and Memory report, pgs. 24-25.

Ralph Moore, “Dear Beverly Axelrod,” Veritas, February 22, 1969.

Alumni Gym