Black Razorback Fans of the Jim Crow Era: A Forgotten Past

Early black fans were segregated to the track around the first Razorback Stadium.

Early black fans were segregated to the track around the first Razorback Stadium.

The history of the African-American athlete at the University of Arkansas has become well chronicled in the last couple decades. Many outlets have covered their experiences on the field – ranging from Yahoo sports columnist Dan Wetzel’s look at Darrell Brown, the first black Razorback football player, to a new “Arkansas African American Sports Center” business which focuses on the histories of black student-athletes at the UA across various sports. The university’s athletic department itself has created a series honoring its minority and women trailblazers.

But what about the history of the Razorbacks’ black fans?

That story appears to be entirely unreported. It’s time that changes and – thanks to Henry Childress, Sr. and Wadie Moore, Jr. – the right time is now.

Childress, Sr., likely the oldest living African-American man in Fayetteville, told me about a small group of black men, women and children who consistently attended Razorback football games at Razorback Stadium in the 1940s. Remember – this was an era in which Jim Crow laws still pervaded the South, although the social climes of Fayetteville have always more progressive than many other Southern towns (aside from a brief flare-up of KKK activity in the early 1900s).

Childress, Sr., now in his upper 80s, recalls seeing about 25-40 black Hog fans at games he attended in the 1940s through early 1950s. They weren’t allowed to sit in the bleachers like all the white fans. Instead, they had to sit in chairs on the track which then encircled the football field. But black and white fans alike Woo-pig-sooed their hearts out during the games against Tulsa, Texas, Texas A&M and SMU which Childress, Sr. saw. A black Fayettevillian named Dave Dart was the loudest cheerleader. “He’d be out there – he’d be out on the side of the field almost. He’d be just a-holerrin’ and yelling ‘Come on!'”  And soon enough, Childress couldn’t help but join the frenzy.

This Hog mania was a far cry from Childress’ younger days growing up in Ft. Smith. Then, he didn’t consider himself a Razorback or much of a football fan at all. One reason was Hogs’ games didn’t then dominate statewide airwaves like they would after 1951, when Bob Cheyne – the UA’s first publicity director – crisscrossed the state to enlist 34 radio stations in the broadcasting of Hog games.

Plus, Childress hadn’t gotten swept up in football mania at his all-black Ft. Smith high school. Lincoln High had cut its football and baseball programs by the time he moved to Fayetteville in 1944, he recalled. He added in the early 1940s the school only sponsored basketball. The teens who still yearned for football simply gathered to play it by themselves on a nearby field after classes let out. “We’d go out to the back of the school, and choose up sides.”

After moving to Fayetteville, it took a little while to warm to the fanaticism and voluminous qualities of certain Razorback fans. “It was kind of strange to me,” Childress said. “I just came out and sat and looked.” Pretty soon, though, he got the hang of it. He learned many fellow black fans actually worked on the UA campus, usually as part of house, cafeteria or groundskeeping staff. This meant they personally knew the white student-athletes for whom they rooted. Dave Dart, for instance, worked at a fraternity home and cheered on the frat bro-hogs he knew by name, Childress recalled.

Hog games weren’t the only setting where black Fayettevillians came to cheer all-white spectacles. Childress said in this era both races got off work to watch the town’s parades (which then featured all-white floats). “We’d come out and stand. There would be lines all up and down Dickson Street.”

I asked Childress what he then thought of the whole situation.  Did he or any friends at any point consider it unfair only white players could represent a state university to which blacks had contributed as employees, taxpayers and students since its 1872 founding?

“No, we didn’t give it a thought,” Childress said. “Wasn’t nobody [African-American] going over there to school,” and he didn’t expect an influx of black UA students to begin any time soon.

What About Black Fans at War Memorial Stadium? 

I haven’t yet found anybody who can speak to the experience of central Arkansan blacks at Razorback football games at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium in the immediate years after its 1947 construction.

But I did find Wadie Moore, Jr., who recalls the situation in the early 1960s Little Rock was more stratified than in 1940s Fayetteville. As a 13-year-old in 1963, Moore began working at War Memorial, where his father was a maintenance worker in the press box. Moore said about 5-10 black fans would attend each Little Rock Razorback game in that time. They didn’t sit in sight of the white fans. Instead, stadium policy “would allow you to sit under the bleachers in the north end zone and watch the game,” he said.

Wade Moore Sr.’s proximity to the media – including future local legends like Jim Bailey, Bud Campbell and Jim Elders – actually opened doors for his son, though. When Moore Jr. found a passion for sportswriting as a high schooler at Horace Mann High School, it was his father who made sure an article he wrote got into the hands of Orville Henry, the longtime sports editor of the Arkansas Gazette.

The mid to late 1960s brought a tidal wave of change to racial dynamics across the South and War Memorial was no exception. Wadie Jr. recalls one of first times he saw black Razorback fans sitting in the crowd – and not secluded below in the stands – coincided with the Little Rock homecoming of one of the Razorbacks’ first black band members. The young woman’s family, last name of “Hill” as he recalled, watched her in the audience around 1965 (the first year black UA students were allowed to live on campus) or 1966. In 1965, too, a young walk on named Darrell Brown joined the defending national champions in Fayetteville full of hope he could break down regional color barriers all by himself. By the end of the next fall he would limp away, that hope beaten out of him.

But he had opened the doors for others, including Jon Richardson – who a few years later became the Hogs’ first black scholarship player.

In 1968 one of Richardson’s schoolmates, Wadie Moore, Jr. became the first black sportswriter at Arkansas’ oldest and most prestigious statewide newspaper.


There are hundreds of other stories about Arkansas’ forgotten sports heritage which need to be recorded and published before it’s too late. Thank you to Henry Childress, Jr., Rita Childress, Jerry Hogan (author of the NWA pro baseball history Angels in the Ozarks) and the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History) for helping me find a treasure of historical knowledge in Henry Childress, Sr. Send tips on stories/interviewees to evindemirel [at] gmail.com.

For more on this topic, visit my other work here:

1. Vanishing Act: What Happened to Black Baseball in Arkansas? (via Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

2. Integrate the Record Books (via Slate)

3. It’s Time Arkansas Follows Texas in Honoring its Black Sports Heritage (via The Sports Seer)


Brad Bolding’s Lawyer Hints At Deeper Problems for NLRHS Athletics

Meyer-ed in alleged scandal, K.J. Hill's future is in doubt.

Meyer-ed in alleged scandal, K.J. Hill’s future is in doubt.

Good stuff from Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly on the latest concerning the K.J. Hill/Brad Bolding/Potentially A Whole Lot More controversy smoking in North Little Rock right now. The fallout has been swift and deep – head football coach Bolding dismissed, North Little Rock High forfeiting its 2014 state basketball title and now K.J. Hill’s amateur status in doubt.

Much of the issue traces back to a $600 check K.J. Hill’s stepfather Montez Peterson was given in February 2013. Peterson was then a NLR football team volunteer while Hill had not yet transferred from Bryant to NLRHS (that would happen two months later).

Was this illegal recruiting? Despite Peterson’s adamant denial, some believe that check confirm Hill’s move to NLR (which Peterson said was inevitable at that point anyway). And was Hill even living in a NLRHS district zone? This, and more, were things Mattingly brought up in an interview with Brad Bolding’s attorney David Couch on Friday.

Here’s an excerpt from their talk:

Couch: [Hill’s] family rented a house when they first moved here, it was in the district. Subsequently, they begun to rent an apartment that wasn’t in the district and when they found out that that apartment was not in the district, they changed it and they moved to another house that was in the district. So he was in the district.

Mattingly: So he started in the district, went out of the district, became aware of it, moved back in the district? 

Right. And am not sure that the second part of that is that he actually went out of the district. I know they rented an apartment I don’t know if they took possession of it or for how long they did.

We are talking to Brad Bolding’s attorney David Couch our guest here on the JJ’s Grill Hotline. Lot of rumours, stuff like you know there was an apartment paid for by Bolding by Foundation money for KJ Hill and his family to be able to live in. What will Brad Bolding say when it’s his opportunity to talk about those kinds of accusations and I know you are hearing?

I can tell you right now that those are absolutely untrue. I mean I have, ah – there’s no evidence to that at all. I’ve looked at all of the NLR Foundation bank statements and accounts as has the North Little Rock School District. That’s just – it simply not true. And it is not even alleged by North Little Rock as something we should be even talking about.

Yeah. Ok. But what is it that you are going to say, or coach Bolding is going to say when you have your day. You are going to have a hearing, right? To appeal this?

Yes sir. Right.

OK. When you are there, what are you going to say in regards to why you think that North Little Rock school district has laid out this case that in your mind is – I don’t want to put words in your mouth – but, not reasonable for his firing. What, why do you think they are doing this?

You know, anytime you have an organisation I think have a clash of personalities. I think that has something to do with it and then one of the things I think will come out and am going to say it now is that sometime in the late fall, Coach Bolding started inquiring about invoices from the athletics department that had not been paid and not been paid and still may not be paid. And you know, there is some grant money that the athletic department got from the state that may or may not have been used in the correct way. So when [he started] asking those kind of questions coincidently you know, is when these problems started arising.

Listen to the rest of the interview here.


This North Little Rock High Football Player’s Shorts Are On Fire

North Little Rock High School, Arkansas’ No. 2 ranked team, clashes this Friday night with No. 1 Fayetteville at War Memorial Stadium. It promises to be an epic showdown – ‘dogs vs. ‘cats, Central Arkansas vs Northwest Arkansas and a rematch of North Little Rock’s heart-breaking loss in the 2012 state semis.

Suffice to say, for the players, this warrants getting just a little hype.

Or a lot hype.

Or … this:

Because what Charging Wildcat worth his six pack doesn’t like to sneak a little King of Pop action into his NLR O’ Donovan School of Irish Dance homework?

lmirish3

 

 


Concussion Concerns & The End of Youth Football in Texas & Arkansas

heads up

Can this program save youth football?

Those seeking a glimpse into a possible future for youth football may not have to travel far. Just over an hour south of Texarkana, in the east Texas town of Marshall, a school board approved the cutting of seventh grade tackle football in February amid widespread and growing concern for the sport’s physical dangers — specifically, the potential for injuries from concussions.

“I’m surprised, in some ways, because you know how it is in a one-high-school town where football is everything,” Marc Smith, superintendent of the Marshall Independent School District, told The New York Times. “I anticipated a little more resistance and concern, but the safety factor really resonated with our parents.”

Certainly nobody in Arkansas is going to ban junior high tackle football any time soon. Don’t expect it to happen in east Texas, either, although flag football is a more popular alternative there. People in both areas are too passionate about the sport to seek such wholesale changes in the coming years.

Many Arkansans are also passionate parents, and they are every bit as concerned for their sons’ health as their Texan counterparts.

Enough damning evidence about brain injury has accumulated to begin rattling the most influential football-affiliated institutions and society at large. Concussions inevitably spring to the forefront of conversations involving player safety in sports. None other than President Obama himself convened a summit on youth concussions in late May, declaring: “We have got to change a society that says you suck it up.” In advance of the event, NCAA and NFL officials announced pledges totaling $55 million to go toward the study of youth sports and brain injury.

There has also been pushback from players. In 2011, Derek Owens, a former University of Central Arkansas player, was one of four student-athlete plaintiffs in a lawsuit claiming the NCAA had been negligent in addressing and treating its student-athletes’ brain injuries — the first such suit filed against the NCAA. Since then at least 61 ex-college athletes have sued the NCAA, encompassing nine other class-action concussion lawsuits, according to a February 2014 article in The Birmingham News. Owens’ suit w consolidated with others and in late July the NCAA reached a preliminary settlement that includes provisions for a $70 million medical monitoring fund and a new national protocol for players’ head injuries sustained during games and practices.

In addition, nearly 5,000 former pro players — including Dan Marino and Little Rock native Keith Jackson — have kept the issue a high profile one by joining (or withdrawing from the suit, as Marino did in early June) various concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL.

Former UofA Razorback Ronnie Hammers.

Photograph courtesy Arkansas Money & Politics

Former UofA Razorback Ronnie Hammers (70).

Former Razorback Ronnie Hammers, a Marshall native, was an all-conference football player for the University of Arkansas in the late 1960s. He isn’t suing anyone — he said he’s not experienced any neurological problems other than occasionally memory lapses, which may not be football related — but he said hardly anybody knew about the long-term dangers of concussions when he was a player.

“I played on the offensive line and back in my day, that’s all you did,  fire off and hit somebody,” said Hammers. “Your head was getting hit every snap of the play, not just when somebody got tackled.”

Hammers runs a remodeling and roofing company in Marshall, and regularly makes it up to Fayetteville to hobnob with other former Razorbacks at reunions. He rarely discusses the concussion issue in that crowd, but he and the others may good-naturedly joke about it if someone shows signs of forgetfulness. They note how much attitudes have changed when it comes to violent hits on the field.

“The big saying back then was, ‘Well, you just got your bell rung. You’ll be all right here in a minute.’”

Hammers said if given the chance to choose all over again, he’d still play football. But he’d hope his grandson plays a safer sport, like golf.

The Defense is an Offense

No Arkansas authorities contacted for this story had heard discussion about eliminating tackle football for younger players, as the Marshall Independent School District has done, but all pointed to less-drastic changes that have made the sport safer. This upcoming season will be the third year in which high school coaches are required to take concussion training. Last year, the state’s first concussion protocol law passed. The law, whose primary sponsor was state Sen. David Sanders, requires all players suspected of having a concussion to be taken out of the game, to return only with a licensed professional’s approval.

Bigger school districts, like Little Rock School District (LRSD), are investing more money into athletes’ safety. Last season, for the first time, each LRSD junior high and high school game had a MEMS unit present. Most of the time, an athletic trainer or medical intern was also present. As of early June, the district was working toward making a licensed medical professional’s presence mandatory for all games.

At the same time, the state’s governing body for high school athletics — the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) — is mulling changes include limiting the number and frequency of collisions players endure on a weekly basis, said Joey Walters, deputy executive director of the AAA. On Wednesday, August 6, the AAA’s governing body was considering a proposal to limit full contact to three times a week (including games) at its annual meeting.

Money from the NFL is starting to trickle into local football, too. The nation’s richest league has donated millions of dollars to an instructional program taught through USA Football, its youth league umbrella group. The core idea is to spread the gospel of proper tackling, hydration and proper equipment fitting through a combination of online curricula and full-day, in-person training sessions. Coaches return from the Heads Up program clinics to teach other coaches, who in turn teach players. So far, about 2,800 youth teams nationwide — including five in Arkansas — have signed up.

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List of All Division I Football Players Born in Arkansas

There are so many Arkansans who play Division I football. You know this, on a gut level. What you don’t know – on any level – is the name of every single last one of those Arkansans. That ends now.

So come, brother, and let the waters below sate your parched mind:

Arkansas has produced two Harvard football players - including Andrew Flesher, two-time Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week.

Arkansas is home to two current Harvard football players – including Andrew Flesher, two-time Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week.

The below stats are current as of fall 2013. I have listed the most recent 2014 signees at the bottom.

20140205_123716 20140205_123726 20140205_123733 20140205_123738 20140205_12374320140205_123754

All spreadsheets courtesy of Benn Stencil of Mode. Check here for a breakdown of which Arkansas counties produce the most talent per capita. 

2014 Signees

ARKANSASHereARKANSAS STATEHereCENTRAL ARKANSAS
Tyler Colquitt – LB 5-10 235 Pulaski Academy
Toney Hawkins – QB 6-1 185 Morrilton
Will Jones – OT 6-4 300 Parkers Chapel
Curtis Parker – OG 6-2 280 North Little Rock
Dalvin Simmons – DE 6-2 220 LR Central
Josiah Wymer – TE 6-4 262 Springdale

ALABAMA
PLAYER POS. HT. WT. SCHOOL
Josh Frazier – DT 6-3 330 Springdale Har-Ber

GRAMBLING STATE
Devohn Lindsey – WR 6-2 198 North Little Rock

LOUISIANA-MONROE
Tyrone Carter – WR 6-2 175 Rayville, La./Arkansas Baptist JC
Isaac Jackson – QB 6-2 210 FS Southside
Jake Snyder – OT 6-3 270 Wynne

LOUISIANA TECH
Ty Mullens# – DL 6-1 220 Smackover

MEMPHIS
Jarvis Cooper – DL/LB 6-2 245 West Memphis

MISSOURI STATE
Daryl Coburn – DT 6-1 325 LR Central
Deion Holliman – WR 5-9 165 Camden Fairview
Colby Isbell – DE 6-2 240 Rogers Heritage

PURDUE
Austin McGehee – PK/P 6-0 200 Pine Bluff

TULSA
Jabe Burgess* – QB 6-2 200 Greenwood
Jordan Dennis – ATH 6-1 175 Fayetteville
Isaac Johnson – OT 6-6 275 Springdale Har-Ber
Tim Quickel – LB 6-1 200 North Little Rock

WAKE FOREST
Zack Wary – LB 6-4 215 Rogers
#Walk on *Enrolled NOTE – Most players listed for Lyon are signees

UAPB

Kavin Alexander DB 5’10 190 North Little Rock HS (North Little Rock, AR)
Lawrence Berry WR 5’11 170 Parkview HS (Little Rock, AR)
Kyron Lawson DL 6’6 230 Mills HS (Little Rock, AR)
Patrick Rowland WR 5’10 165 Parkview HS (Little Rock, AR)


Bentonville Vs. The Best in Texas: A Behind the Scenes Report

Bentonville coach Barry Lunney Sr. speaking to his players before facing one of the toughest foes of his career.

Bentonville coach Barry Lunney Sr. speaking to his players before facing one of the toughest foes of his career.

I wrote the following for the November 2013 issue of Arkansas Life magazine:

While his friends celebrated around him, Javier Carbonell emerged from a pile of bodies, staggered to the sideline of Bentonville High’s football field and collapsed. The junior defensive end had just suffered a blow to the Adam’s apple and a stinger to his leg after throwing his 259 pounds into an offensive line as big as some Division I colleges’. The sacrifice, he reasoned, was worth it. The opponent, one of the best prep teams in the nation, had driven deep into Bentonville territory in the fourth quarter and was looking for the kill shot. It was only an early season, non-conference game, but as both sides approached for a pivotal fourth down-and-one play, far more was on the line than a single win or loss. With seven minutes left in a showdown with a Texas powerhouse, Carbonell and his teammates were carrying the hopes of a state on their shoulders.

Fifteen years ago, this would have been unimaginable.

*****

In the 1990s, Benton County was booming economically but not yet on the football field. Northwest Arkansas-based Fortune 500 businesses like Walmart, J.B. Hunt and Tyson were then already setting into motion forces that would turn the county into the state’s second most populous and boost Bentonville’s median household income from $40,000 (in 2000) to a projected $63,000 by 2015. Football, like other sports, benefited from a rapidly expanding talent pool, top-notch salaries and the construction of state-of-the-art facilities.

Bentonville High is Exhibit A here: In the early 1990s, it had about 750 students, the smallest enrollment of all schools in the state’s largest classification. It has since added ninth grade and this fall is the state’s largest school with more than 4,100 students. In the early 2000s, Bentonville had the worst athletic facilities in its conference. But the last decade has seen a new $9 million stadium and field house complex, as well as the 2005 hiring of one of the most accomplished head coaches around. To get Barry Lunney, Sr., Bentonville approved a salary of $89,000—$14,000 more than Lunney had made at his previous job at Fort Smith Southside—plus another $240,000 or so for four assistant coaches he planned to bring with him.

The investment paid off: Heading into this season, Bentonville had won two state championships since 2008, played in three straight title games and had a 35-game regular season winning streak. “I feel like our program is as good as any program out there,” Bentonville athletic director Scott Passmore said this summer.

“Out there” no longer means other parts of the state. In recent years, Bentonville’s football program has been so good it’s had trouble finding in-state opponents for early-season games. The program, like all other big schools, must stay in state during conference play and post-season but is free to choose its own opponents for the early-season, non-conference games. Scheduling willing in-state opponents has gotten progressively harder, so Bentonville has started looking across state borders at programs in a similar predicament. In recent seasons, the Tigers have played and knocked off elite teams from Missouri, Mississippi and Oklahoma. The wins bolstered their national cred and helped Bentonville make appearances in national top 100 prep football polls run by recruiting services.

But Bentonville isn’t yet considered a national prep power. It broadcasts its games on an ESPN-affiliated radio station but hasn’t yet brought ESPN cameras to town. To prove itself worthy of the limelight, it has needed one last accolade: a win over a top team from Texas, America’s football mecca. The best Texas teams are universally hailed as also being the best in America. This has also played out at the college level, where the best Arkansas teams have had some success in defeating Texan counterparts. The Arkansas Razorbacks beat their fierce rival, the Texas Longhorns, with regularity in the 1950s and 1960s and as recently as 2003.

Bentonville assistant coach Tony Cherico knows. He was an All-American noseguard for the Arkansas Razorbacks in the mid 1980s. “When I played, everyone circled Texas—that was it. Texas was a big game,” he says. “It was for all the marbles.”

But this rivalry has not gone nearly as well for top Arkansas teams versus top Texas teams at the prep ranks. Granted, Pine Bluff High handled business against any and all comers (including Texans) in the 1920s, as did Little Rock Central High in the 1950s, but no recent Arkansas prep program has achieved the national prestige of those schools. In 2010, Springdale’s Shiloh Christian—then ranked No. 22 nationally by MaxPreps—had a shot against Euless Trinity, then ranked No. 1, in Arlington, Texas. Shiloh lost 80-26. In 2012, North Little Rock High—one of the best three programs in the state that season—traveled to Texas to take on Longview High. It lost 30-14.

Not long afterward, Scott Passmore filled in an open date for the third game of the 2013 season by scheduling a home game with Trinity High School in Euless, Texas. The school of 2,300 midway between Dallas and Fort Worth has earned a reputation as one the most physically dominant programs in Texas’ highest classification. The Trinity Trojans used a ferocious ground game often employing 10-plus running backs to win three state titles in 2005-2009 and finish as runner-up in 2011.

All photos courtesy of hittphotography.com

All photos courtesy of hittphotography.com

“Certainly, when those guys get on a roll, they can beat anybody very badly,” Coach Lunney said in August.

Bentonville is a big, strong and well-coached team. Problem is, Euless is also well-coached, but bigger and stronger. Against Arkansas teams, Bentonville usually has the biggest linemen. Euless, which is stocked with 300 pound plus players, has linemen which outweigh their Bentonville counterparts by an average of 20-30 pounds. Moreover, Euless is loaded with future high Division I players. Bentonville doesn’t have the same firepower in terms of sheer future major college players. It has one major college commit in its senior class.

****

September 20, 2013
It’s a quarter to 7:00 p.m. in the middle of Tiger Fieldhouse, the high school band’s threatening to rock the metal siding off this place, and all those rankings and statistics mentioned above? Doesn’t matter here.

Bentonville football is ready to make its mark at a national level, and Tiger players who have gathered in a semi-circle on the edge of a half field of artificial turf are focused on the task at hand. The steady roar of 3,500 Bentonville fans outside conveys this game’s importance just as much as the words of Lunney and his nine assistant coaches.

“This is a chance to represent the state of Arkansas,” Bentonville defensive coordinator Jody Grant says, his voice rising with every syllable. “Let’s show these people what they came out here to see and let’s work these jokers over.”

Cheers erupt. The band pounds its drums.

Next to speak is Lunney. Nearly 100 players gather around him, drop to their knees and clasp hands. Lunney spends 42 seconds praying for the safety of all participants during the game and for the safety of their opponents who later that night will make a six-hour bus trip to Euless.

Then Lunney launches into a sermon on the game’s fundamentals: avoid penalties, take advantage of turnovers, play aggressive. It’s the same gospel this Fort Smith native has been preaching throughout his 27 years of head coaching that have brought six state titles and three runner-up finishes.

Lunney tells his players to hustle as hard as previous Bentonville teams. He reminds them of his first Bentonville team: “They fought for 48 minutes regardless, and we got down by some big scores that year,” he recalls. Then Lunney looks at senior Clay Wallace. “Your brother was a part of that, you know that.” Pause. “I don’t know if you know or not. You were so little,” he adds, smiling.

Lunney wraps by emphasizing the importance of the kicking game. One in every five plays is either part of kickoff, field goal or punt attempt, he says. These plays are not time for rest. “We must, we must, we must win the kicking game,” he says. “We’re gonna press it. We’re gonna press it. We’re gonna press it right from the start.”

arkansas life header

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It’s Time Arkansas Follows Texas In Honoring Its Black Prep Sports Heritage

On October 31 and November 1, Texans will honor and celebrate the legacy of their all black high school sports and activities league with an event at the University of Texas. Why shouldn’t Arkansas do the same?

Yes, Texas has more people than Arkansas. A lot more people. But that doesn’t make its history any more significant.  Look at the promotional poster below. It notes the event will involve discussion of the role high school athletics had in the desegregation of Texas society. The exact same dynamic was playing out in the all-black Arkansas State Athletic Association during the same decades. You’ll also notice famous Texas high school alumni such as David Lattin and Joe Washington. Well, Arkansas black sports had the likes of Eddie Miles and civil rights leader Sonny Walker, who in the 1950s reported on black high school sports in Little Rock for Daisy Bates’ newspaper the Arkansas State Press.

texas black sports

We, as Arkansans, should organize such an event as an opportunity to gather surviving coaches and players from this era and learn about their experiences playing in a different era. Oliver Elders, who coached at the all-black Horace Mann High School before he coached Sidney Moncrief at LR Hall, is in his 80s but is still sharp. So is North Little Rock great Eddie Miles, who’s in his 70s. These guys won’t be around forever, though. We need to learn more from them now.

Who would have interest in sponsoring such an event? Possibilities include the UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, the UA’s Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History and maybe the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute (Walker was appointed by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller as the first African-American in the South to hold a cabinet level position)?  I could see an event like this being hosted by the Butler Center, Clinton Center, Mosaic Templars or the UA Department of Journalism. I am sure the cause would get good publicity from the likes of the Arkansas Times, Sporting Life Arkansas, ArkansasFight.com, KUAR 89.1 FM and KUAF 91.3 FM.

What’s stopping us from making this happen?

It’s one thing to ignore the records of long-ago all-black prep sports leagues. Some of those numbers still live on microfilm, which will still be around for future generations to peruse. But it’s an entirely different matter to let stories of the leagues’ survivors – the stories that should matter to all Arkansans, white or black – keep going untold. Once we close that door, there’s no opening it again.


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