In honor of MLK day, I decided to celebrate Boise State's first African-American athlete—a man whose legacy looms larger in this community than you may realize. That athlete's name was Aurelius Buckner and I'll tell you more about him and the large footprints he left on campus and in the valley after the jump.
When Jesse Jackson made an appearance at Boise State's MLK day event in 2007 his speech focused on how far the civil rights movement had come due, in large part, to the work of Dr. King. While, no one can deny the truth of those words, it was an erroneous comment Jackson later made that ended up shedding much more light on Boise State's history. When Jackson noted that the multiracial Boise State football team, which won the Fiesta Bowl a month earlier against Oklahoma, would not have existed had it not been for the civil rights work of Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of the civil rights movement. Jackson added that a half-century ago blacks were not permitted to play football for either Boise State or the University of Oklahoma. Well, officials at Boise State were flooded with telephone calls and e-mails in the days following Jackson’s speech telling them that his quip was more assumption than fact. You see, yearbooks dating to the 1940s and 1950s showed black athletes at the school and legendary coach Lyle Smith stated unequivocally that Boise State, at the time Boise Junior College, never had any stipulations barring black athletes from competing. As Smith later quipped, "there just weren't that many black people in Idaho in those days". Still, the first was Aurelius "Buck" Buckner—who played football and basketball for the Broncos from 1944 to 1946 and led the basketball team in scoring for the '45-'46 season.
Buckner's family were Idahoans—his father being a long-time official with the Bureau of Reclamation and "Buck" was a hometown boy playing for the Broncos. After graduating, Buckner married another BJC grad Dorothy Johnson, who years later was designated a hall of fame member in the Idaho branch of the NAACP. Aurelius and Dorothy raised four children (Charles, Cherie, Pepper and Carol). Daughter Cherie (Buckner-Webb) was elected to the Idaho House of Representatives in November.
The Buckner family play a large part in the history of the Treasure Valley, and Aurelius Buckner is forever linked to the history of Boise State football—perhaps unwittingly. I'm sure Buck would say he was just a hometown boy playing for his hometown team.
I tried in vain to find pictures of Aurelius Buckner, so if anyone knows of any please give me a heads up.