Saving Stories celebrates Black History Month: Trailblazing track star Jim Green
This week on Saving Stories Dr. Doug Boyd, director of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History in the UK Libraries highlights an interview with Jim Green, the first African-American student-athlete to graduate from UK. In the conversation Green talks about his decision to enroll at the state’s flagship university in the late 1960’s, what it was like competing in the racially-charged Southeastern conference, his role in desegregating the track program, and how he’d like to be remembered by future generations.
Jim Green talks about his accomplishments and successes as the University of Kentucky's most decorated track star and first African American athlete to graduate with a degree in four years. He talks about his time at UK and his relationship with his coaches. He talks about early influences on his running and his high school running career. He talks about his involvement with the Civil Rights Movement, relationships with leaders, and experiencing integration on campus. He talks about his post-graduate running career, pharmaceutical career, and his work mentoring middle school students in his retirement.
Access the interview below:
From UK Athletics:
As the first African-American student-athlete to graduate from the University of Kentucky, it wasn’t uncommon for Jim Green to face open hostility at times.
But Green outran hate and created a legacy for all future athletes at UK.
Consider the path Green blazed:
- He was the first African-American student-athlete at UK and first in the Southeastern Conference to win NCAA and SEC Championships.
- Green also was the first UK African-American to serve as co-captain on the track team and in December 1971 became the first African-American student-athlete to graduate from UK.
He succeeded at the highest levels of collegiate sports. He was a three-time NCAA champion, winning the indoor 60-yard dash in 1968 and the 100-yard dash in both 1968 and 1971. He earned All-America honors six times and won eight SEC individual events, including the indoor 60-yard dash (1968, 1971), outdoor 100-yard dash (1968, 1970, 1971), and outdoor 220-yard dash (1968, 1970, 1971).
In December 2023 the university officially dedicated the Jim Green Track and Field Center.
“Today’s about a lot more than a building,” Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said. “Today is about Jim Green and a lifetime of knocking down barriers, first for himself and ultimately for others. Today is a great day to dedicate this facility as the Jim Green Track and Field Center.”
The program will use the facility for practices throughout the 2023-24 season. The new facility will encompass 81,000 square feet in addition to a 200-meter banked track enabling the runners to train on a surface that is now standard for NCAA and SEC indoor championships.
The building is located adjacent to the UK Outdoor Track and the teams’ locker rooms and strength and conditioning areas in Shively Sports Center.
“I am grateful today!” Jim Green said. “This is not just about me. This is about my family also, because without family you don’t get very far. I am so excited that a little old kid from Eminence, Kentucky has something named after him. I’m thankful and hopeful the new class of young student-athletes get to enjoy this new facility.”
Along with the new facility, a statue was unveiled showing a sprinting Jim Green and a list of all his accomplishments as a Wildcat.
Green was one of the SEC’s pioneers of integration and was a 2007 inductee into the University of Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame. He’s an inductee into six Halls of Fame.
“When I met Jim Green for the first time, the sincerity of the man and who he is just blessed my heart,” said Lonnie Green, head coach of Track & Field and Cross Country. “He was concerned not just about the African American student-athlete, he was concerned about students in general and we thank Jim for being that person who stepped up.”
Green was the first African American at UK to serve as co-captain on the track team and in December of 1971 became the first African American student-athlete to graduate from UK.
Despite facing open hostility at many competitions, Green succeeded at the highest levels of collegiate sport. He was a two-time NCAA champion, winning the 60-yard dash in 1968 and 1971.
He earned All-American honors six times and won eight SEC individual events, including the indoor 60-yard dash (1968, 1971), outdoor 100-yard dash (1968, 1970, 1971), and outdoor 220-yard dash (1968, 1970, 1971).
A 1971 UK graduate, Green was born in Eminence, Ky. While in high school, he excelled in football, basketball, baseball, and track. Jim broke state records in the 70-, 100-, 220- and 440-yard dashes. After high school, he committed to compete at UK in track and field.