ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – Today May 18 marks the 59th anniversary of the sudden death of Elmira legend Ernie Davis.

Born in New Salem, Pennsylvania on December 14, 1939, Ernie Davis moved to Elmira when he was 12. He attended Elmira Free Academy and played halfback on the football team, leading the school to a 52-game winning streak and being dubbed “The Elmira Express”

He later played football at Syracuse University. He made history by becoming the first African-American to earn the Heisman Trophy as a senior in 1961. He was later drafted as the number one overall pick by the Washington Redskins in 1962, and was soon traded to the Cleveland Browns.

But before he got the chance to play professionally, he came down with leukemia and died on May 18, 1963 at the young age of 23.

His legacy has lived on in the Southern Tier. Elmira Free Academy is now named Ernie Davis Academy. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979. And the 2008 movie The Express is based off the novel ‘Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express.”