Shame on me for not knowing about the following story. It took the events taking place at the University of Missouri over the past few days to bring it to the fore.
"Mel Hamilton would still wrap the black band around his arm on Oct. 17, 1969, the day that altered his life and so many others. He regrets nothing, except perhaps not taking his fight further. It cost him his spot on the Wyoming football team. It led to four decades of finger-pointing and accusations and racism, he said. Hamilton knows he made the right decision when he sees the pride on his children’s faces when they talk about what he did.
Hamilton is one of the Black 14, a group whose story remained buried in history books until this week, when the stand taken by the Missouri football team kindled memories. Missouri’s players received widespread support and sparked instant results, a reaction diametrically opposite from what Hamilton and his 13 teammates endured.
The day before Wyoming played Brigham Young, 14 black players wore black arm bands in protest of the LDS church’s practice of not allowing blacks into the priesthood. The players marched into Coach Lloyd Eaton’s office and asked if they could wear the arm bands at BYU. With little discussion, Eaton screamed at them and kicked all 14 players, many of them starters, off the team for the rest of the season. Eaton told them they could all go play at historically black colleges. Just three ever played for Wyoming again. On campus, white students met them with hostility and, on occasion, flashed them shotguns as they drove around on the back of pick-up trucks.
“The only parallel was the fact that BYU was going to play them this weekend,” Hamilton said Tuesday morning in a phone conversation. “That is the only parallel. These guys had the support of the white football players on their team as well as the head coach. It was the reverse at Wyoming. We had no support from any of the white players. We had no support at first with any of the white coaches.”
The Black 14 incident created lasting ripples. Wyoming’s football team, then a Western Athletic Conference powerhouse coming off a Sun Bowl victory over Florida State, crumbled as it lost the ability to recruit black players; it still has not matched the heights it reached in the late 1960s. Eaton lost his job after the 1970 season, became a scout for the Green Bay Packers and ultimately died alone in Idaho as “a bitter man,” Hamilton said. Hamilton and his teammates fought a financially draining legal battle that ultimately failed in federal court.
Hamilton was born in South Carolina and raised in North Carolina. In college he fell in love with a woman from Wyoming, and they married and settled in her home town of Casper. Other players, including former NFL players Tony McGee and Joe Williams, scattered across the country. In Wyoming, Hamilton felt the fallout.
“I couldn’t go to have a drink or a wine with my wife without somebody in a drunken stupor pointing at me saying, ‘You are the reason Wyoming is not winning today,’ ” Hamilton said. “It never went away for me.”
Racism infected Hamilton’s life. He became the first black principal in the state. He overheard teachers at his school refer to him using slurs. He woke up one morning and saw three sixes drawn in the snow in his front yard.
“My first principalship was sabotaged by racism,” Hamilton said. “I really think that the Black 14 had a lot to do with that fight there. It never really went under the rug with me. I lived it every day.”
Hamilton said he would still make the same stand. He felt refreshed this week when he saw black Missouri football players threaten to boycott if school president Tim Wolfe did not resign amid anger over his response to racial tension on campus. He called it “a reawakening of the struggle.” He didn’t know if college athletes still had the will to incite change. He does now.
“It just makes me feel proud to watch that all week about Missouri and realize that the struggle was still there, and the kids were still aware that institutional racism is well and alive in America,” Hamilton said. “Although the racism has gone underground, it’s still there. We still have to watch for it, and we still have to react. I had lost faith in the young folks up until now. I didn’t think they had realized the struggles before. I’m glad to see I was wrong.”
Every generation, Hamilton believes, helps the next generation. He sees a line — perhaps not a direct one — from what happened in Wyoming in 1969 to what happened in Missouri on Monday afternoon. Forty-five years ago, Hamilton and 13 teammates engaged in a small protest and met a vile reaction. This week, Missouri players demanded change, and less than 48 hours later, the school president quit.
“See?” Hamilton said. “I obviously can’t take credit for that. But every struggle builds on top of each other. The most important thing is, you fight, you fight, you fight. I’m glad to see the young folk are starting to realize that. We are stronger in numbers.”' [Source]
I hope that you boosters at those powerful SEC football schools and others are taking note. Can you imagine if your program finds itself in college football obscurity like Wyoming years from now?
Sadly, if you remain insensitive to the needs of your minority students it just might.
Finally, I just saw the video of that poor man (Linwood Lambert) being tased to death in Virginia by law enforcement officials, and it was hard to watch. But I needed to see it, because I have to keep reminding myself of the dangers I face as a man of color when dealing with "color aroused" individuals in positions of authority.
*Pic from The University of Wyoming.