Ernie Davis Wins Heisman

President Kennedy meets Heisman Trophy winner, Ernest Davis at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City on December 5, 1961.

On November 28, 1961 Ernie Davis became the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy.  Davis lead the Syracuse football teams to dominance on the field during each of his final three years at the school.  Davis and his Orangemen in 1959 during his sophomore year went 11-0 and won the national championship after defeating the Texas Longhorns in the 1960 Cotton Bowl.

Plaque on Ernie Davis' statue
A plaque on Ernie Davis’ statue at Ernie Davis Middle School
He went on to have two stellar years during his junior and senior years. In the 1962 NFL draft, Davis was selected as the #1 overall pick by the Washington Redskins. The Redskins traded Davis to the Cleveland Browns.  But before he could play in his first professional football game, he was diagnosed with leukemia.  Davis died on May 18, 1963 of leukemia at age 23 without ever playing a professional game.  The love of Davis was evident by over 10,000 mourners attending his wake in Elmira, New York.