Many USF students do not agree with James D. Phelan’s “Keep California White” and anti-Japanese stances. Instead of having a residence hall named after former San Francisco mayor Phelan, the University will rename Phelan Hall to Toler Hall on May 9. The formal announcement was made recently by ASUSF President Shaya Kara.
This hall will be named after Burl Albron Toler Sr., a former University of San Francisco student from Memphis, Tennessee who played on the legendary 1951 Dons football team and later became the first black NFL referee. Toler attended the USF in the early 1950s and played linebacker as a part of the 1951 undefeated football team. In addition to being part of an amazing football team, Toler was part of the social equality movement that their team started. The Sugar, Orange, and Gator Bowl all strongly considered inviting the 1951 USF Dons. However, all three were located in the South and would not allow the Dons to play unless Burl Toler and Ollie Matson, the Dons’ only two black players, were left behind. The coaches and the team decided to decline the invitations and stood by their belief that if everyone on the team couldn’t go then it wasn’t right to leave anyone behind. The 1951 regular season was the last time that the University of San Francisco fielded a football team after much backlash and controversy from students, alumni, and fans for choosing not to participate in a championship bowl game. San Francisco actually began fielding black players 30 to 40 years before it became the norm.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1952, Toler was selected as a ninth round draft pick by the Cleveland Browns. However, he injured his knee during a college all-star game and would not be able to play football again. Toler came back in later life and earned a master’s in 1966.
Prior to the 1965 season, Toler became the first African-American NFL field official. Toler would officiate games for the next 25 years, including the 1980 Super Bowl Game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Pittsburgh Steelers and the 1982 AFC Championship Game between the San Diego Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals.
After retiring from officiating in 1989, Toler began to teach at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in San Francisco and acted as the district’s first African-American secondary school principal. Toler was also on the Board of Trustees at the University of San Francisco from 1987 to 1998.
Toler passed away in August of 2009, but not before being inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in April 2008.
Photo: Mitchell Lobetos/ Foghorn