Daughter of Mizzou’s first African American football player thinks he’d be proud of current movement

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LEE'S SUMMIT, Mo. -- For one University of Missouri graduate living in the metro, this week's events in Columbia are the fulfillment of a mission.

It's been nearly 60 years since Norris Stevenson broke the color barrier at Mizzou, and now his daughter, Jennifer Stevenson, is reflecting on his accomplishments.

The issues being addressed this week at the university are nothing new. That's what Jennifer Stevenson told FOX 4 News on Tuesday evening at her home in Jackson County. Norris Stevenson became Mizzou's first African American football player in 1957.

"I think he’d be very proud of them," Jennifer said, referring to the students who protested instances of racial discrimination on campus this week.

She says her father, a native of St. Louis, was too humble to think of himself as being a pioneer. When he arrived on campus in Columbia 58 years ago, the American Civil Rights Movement was warming up. Norris Stevenson starred at the Tiger running back under head coach Dan Devine, leading MU to two Orange Bowl berths. He chose to play in-state for Mizzou rather than to attend school at the University of Indiana.

Jennifer Stevenson says this week's headlines from her alma mater have been shocking, and remind her of the abuse to which her father was sometimes subjected.

"I guess the connect for me was when the football players came forward and said, ‘We stand with the protesters. We’re going to support them and we’re not going to play,'" she told FOX 4 News. "That was a huge step in history and to see that and to see Coach Pinkel stand behind that decision… I think was awesome.”

Jennifer Stevenson says she personally didn't experience overt racial tension while she was a student in Columbia. She graduated from Mizzou with a degree in journalism in 1992.

Norris Stevenson was inducted into the Missouri Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011. In his later years, he worked as a church pastor until he passed away in March 2011.