Tom Flanagan from Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania, was the first Black athlete at the University of Scranton. Flanagan came to St. Thomas College (the original name of the University of Scranton) in 1944 to play for the football team. He was a talented halfback and often described as an amazing athlete.
Even though he was a talented athlete, who often times carried the Tommies to victory, he was still known as the Negro on the team. The newspapers frequently spoke of Flanagan as the “Negro wizard” or the “colored player”. He was always praised by the media, but never without the description of his skin color, but unfortunately that was the norm of this time.
The 1940s was a time of inequality and segregation in the United States. However, Northeast Pennsylvania was a more progressive area then other parts of the United States, even though it was and still is a primarily White region.
In retrospect, Tom Flanagan was a pioneer in the integration of college athletics in Northeast Pennsylvania. He enrolled as a student athlete at St. Thomas College in 1944, which was before Kenny Washington broke the NFL color barrier in 1946 and was before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball in 1947. People in Scranton knew about Tom Flanagan before the legends of Kenny Washington and Jackie Robinson.
It is difficult to imagine how Tom Flanagan was treated on campus, but we can get a rough idea of how Black college student athletes were treated, based on other events that happened on college campuses in the Northeast region of the United States. In 1941, at New York University, George Hagan, a Black athlete on the track and field team was not allowed to travel with the team due to his race, NYU students protested. The protests led to The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) getting involved and they brought national attention towards the issue. This is merely one example of college students protesting the mistreatment of Black collegiate athletes, there are many others.
We could assume what Tom's experiences were like on campus, but the truth is we don't know. The only documentation on Tom was about his accomplishments on the gridiron and not about his daily life. What we do know is that for most Black folks during the 1940s, life was a daily struggle.
Tom Flanagan was a pioneer for diversity and equality, not only for sports on campus, but at the University of Scranton as a whole and he deserves recognition.
Tom Flanagan died in 2009.