Editors note… this was originally posted on February 16, 2010 and has been edited for posting during 2019 Black History Month.
For me, it is interesting to realize that the man who broke baseball’s “color barrier” was not even the first at his college to break that same barrier… nor was he the best on the UCLA Bruins’ ball club.
When it came to college baseball, Jackie Robinson played second fiddle to the subject of our player profile, Kenny “Kingfish” Washington.
By the time Jackie Robinson transferred from Pasadena Junior College in 1939, Kenny Washington was already the football and baseball hero on the Los Angeles, California campus of UCLA.
An All-American football player in 1939, Washington led the Bruins for three years as the team’s single-wing halfback. In that formation, Kenny Washington was the key to running the offense as both a passer and rusher.
As a senior, Washington led the country in total offense and was the recipient of the Douglas Fairbanks Trophy as the nation’s best collegiate player.
In 1946, Kenny Washington was one of the first to re-integrate professional football when the Cleveland Rams moved west to Los Angeles. Until then, blacks were forced to play in lessor leagues.
Washington had been playing with the Hollywood Bears of the Pacific Coast Football League and the San Francisco Clippers of the American Football League, but when the Rams agreed to move to Los Angeles and play at the LA Coliseum, one of the conditions required the team to integrate.
Kenny Washington was still very popular in the area and a big drawing card, so he was an obvious selection. And even though, by then, Washington was no longer the football player he had been in his glory days, “Kingfish” Washington played another three years in the NFL.
Off the baseball diamond, Kenny Washington will always remain in the shadow of Jackie Robinson. But on the college diamond, Washington was the first African-American to play baseball at UCLA. His .397 average in 1938 paced the UCLA nine almost the entire season and his four home runs and 17 RBI led the squad. (In his lone year playing baseball for the Bruins, Robinson hit .097).
The second of four generations of baseball playing Washingtons, Kenny’s father Edgar “Blue” Washington played Negro League ball briefly with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1920 and with the Chicago American Giants. He also was an actor and had a bit part in Gone with the Wind. Kenny’s son, Kenny Jr., starred at the University of Southern California from 1961-1963 and was on two NCAA National Championship teams in both 1961 and 1963, captained the ’63 team, then went on to a seven year professional baseball career. His grandson, Kraig played ball at the University of Southern California in 1986 and in the Chicago Cubs organization. Another grandson, Kirk, played at Cal Poly Pomona from 1983-1986, like his father Kenny Jr., played on a College World Series Championship team ( NCAA Division II in 1983) and like his brother Kraig, played in the Chicago Cubs organization.
Kenny Washington went on to become the first football player at UCLA to have his uniform retired and was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1956. Following his athletic career, Washington was affiliated with the Los Angeles Police Department.
Kenny “Kingfish” Washington passed away on June 24, 1971