About James Curtis Owens

The news of his failing heart shook him to his core. Once big, black, and strong, his body, now diminished from multiple surgeries, diabetes, and neuropathy-related pain, betrayed him. He needed a new heart or he… As a man of faith, he could not let himself go there.

The doctors, enamored with their star, history-making patient, sought autographs from him, then ordered his teeth extracted because of gum disease. Expensive out-of-town trips for the multitude of hospital tests raised hopes and resulted in sleepless nights.

Within a month, doctors threw in the towel. James Curtis Owens would not be considered as a heart transplant candidate.

Tall, jet-black, and gentle, Owens made history as the first African American scholarship football player at Auburn University in 1969. Highly recruited and celebrated, 63 colleges pursued his talents. All State in football, basketball, and track-and-field; he possessed 100-yard dash speed and shot put strength. He broke the college football color barrier in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and South Carolina when an unlikely suitor, Auburn, the state land grant university in rural southeast Alabama, won him.

With southern sports integration on the horizon, Owens, a Christian youth, was, “The right one at the right time,” they said.

“They recruited my parents,” says Owens. “My folks said I could do something for my people, and the old folks.”

He became “The First.” Newspapers lauded him. Other schools and coaches closely watched. At Auburn, athletics, academics, coaches, administrators, and rural students waited with bated breath, “To see what he could do.” “Prove yourself,” they thought.

“Can a Negro play at this level?” became the statewide-unanswered sports question. Would this change a way of life in the football mad state of Alabama and in the Southeastern Conference?

Owens needed to win on and off the field.

Quietly, courageously, he tried. “I wanted to please everyone. I put too much pressure on myself,” Owens admits.

Quiet Courage© is the untold story of the football pioneer, the husband and father, and the man. James Curtis Owens, with his Auburn University teammates for life, tells his story with the same quiet courage with which he lived his life. While doctors, family, teammates, friends, and an entire University await a Hail Mary answer for his failing heart.

Last Updated: September 3, 2014