14 Aug

Why 40 Black University of Arkansas Students Barricaded the UA’s Journalism Building

Black Americans for Democracy

The story of the first organized form of protest by University of Arkansas African-American students.

In my last post, I discussed how the first student strike in UA history came as a result of strong disagreement with the standards of the student newspaper. Nearly 60 years after that “X-ray” strike, another student uprising followed conflict with their newspaper’s editors. This time around, about 40 black students blockaded the journalism building as part of a protest that gave rise to a UA organization called Black Americans for Democracy (now called the Black Students Association).

The assassination of Martin Luther King in the spring of 1968 was a major catalyst in black UA students banding together to address an on-campus situation which had become “unbearable,” according to Mordean Taylor Moore, a UA graduate student in his 1972 dissertation “Black Student Unrest at the University of Arkansas: A Case Study.”

Moore wrote: “The [UA] students reacted to the assassination of Dr. King holding memorial services and marching through the campus and downtown. Both black and white students as well as faculty members participated in these events. The expenses for three black students to attend the funeral of Dr. King In Atlanta were paid by contributions from local citizens, and before leaving Fayetteville, the students were given a letter of condolence from the University president to deliver to Mrs. King. In addition to these activities, the official day of mourning was recognized by the University with dismissal of classes.

Following these events, a white student wrote to the school newspaper complaining of all the publicity that was given to the death of Dr. King. This letter appeared In the editorial section of the school paper. However, when a black student* wrote a letter to the editor in response, the school paper failed to print it.

This act triggered the first overt form of protest by University of Arkansas black students.

The black students reacted by barricading the journalism building on campus. Reportedly, about forty black students blocked the building for several hours preventing the publication of the school paper as well as other printing done in the building. This
protest resulted into an open meeting of the board of publication and administration with, the black students.

The black students openly attacked the school newspaper for not representing the whole student body and called for an end of Its publication unless change was made in its discriminatory editorial policies. The black students stated that they felt they had to protest to such a manner because they had exhausted all official channels; a letter had been written to the editor of the school paper requesting that the list of their grievances** be printed, they had spoken to the Dean of Students concerning their dissatisfaction with their situation on campus and had requested a meeting with the board of publication. These attempts through the proper channels were to no avail.

The following fall semester, the black student organization worked hard at improving the situation of black students on campus. They held several black-white conferences on race relations on campus wherein they stated that they felt isolated on campus and [an integral part] of the university.”

* John Rowe

** According to UA archivist Amy Allen, “BAD had a list of thirteen demands, including ending discrimination in room assignments, sororities, fraternities, and athletics; enactment of policies for reporting unfair classroom treatment to a faculty-student committee; creation of a black history course; recruitment of black faculty, administrators, and staff; and banning the playing of the song ‘Dixie’ and the use of black face grease paint at official university functions.”

***BAD formed its own newspaper, initially called The Bad Times. You can read past copies in the UA’s digital archives here.

07 Jul

James Baldwin and Focusing on the Heritage of Black Athletes in America

I am not your negro

 

In coming out with a book highlighting the African-American sports heritage of the state of Arkansas, I have already been asked why I should highlight racial differences in a book about Arkansas sports history. I have a feeling that after the book publishes later next week many people will be turned off by its racial focus, and perceive I unnecessarily stress past divisions at the expense of future unity.

This isn’t the place for a full explanation of why I write so much about African Americans. This isn’t the place to get into the ramifications of the fact that the (white owned) Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has produced more than 300 combined years of archived history, as a daily, while the (black owned) Arkansas State Press has about 30 years of combined history while being published only weekly.

All that will come.

For now, I only want to relay the words of James Baldwin, the renowned African-American author and civil rights activist. In 1968, he appeared on “The Dick Cavett Show” and began discussing some of his experiences as an American black man who had lived abroad. Cavett brought on Dr. Paul Weiss, a Yale philosophy professor, who began expostulating on the existentialist dilemma of all men before peering into the ether and asking: “So why must we always concentrate on color?”

Baldwin, brow raised, then delivers a masterful soliloquy:

I’ll tell you this. When I left this country in 1948, I left this country for one reason only. One reason. I didn’t care where I’d go. I might’ve gone to Hong Kong, I might’ve gone to Timbuktu, I ended up in Paris with $40 in my pocket with the theory that nothing worse would happen to me there than had already happened to me here… You had to be able to turn off all the antennae with which you  live, because once you turn your back on this society, you may die. You may die.

And it’s very hard to sit at a type writer, and concentrate on that, if you’re afraid of the world around you. The years I lived in Paris did one thing for me: They made rethink that particular social turn is not the terror of my own mind, visible in the face of every cop, every boss, everybody.

I don’t know what those white people in this country feel. But I can only conclude what they feel when the state of their institutions. I don’t know if white Christians hate Negroes or not, but I know that we have a Christian which is white, and a Christian church which is black. I know, as Malcolm X once put it, the most segregated hour in American life is high noon on Sunday. That says a great deal for me about a Christian nation. It means I can’t afford to trust most white Christians, and I certainly cannot trust the Christian church.

I don’t know whether the labor unions and their bosses really hate me — that doesn’t matter — but I know I’m not in their union. I don’t know whether the real estate lobby has anything against black people, but I know the real estate lobby is keeping me in the ghetto. I don’t know if the board of education hates black people, but I know the textbooks they give my children to read and the schools we have to go to.

Now this is the evidence. You want me to make an act of faith, risking myself, my wife, my woman, my sister, my children on some idealism which you assure me exists in America, which I have never seen.

I am not black. I don’t know how it feels to be black. But I have listened to many African Americans discuss race issues, and they tell me that the world they and their loved ones have experienced, and the pain they have felt, often differs from what I as a white man have experienced. That difference matters, and to me it hardly matters whether it’s “perceived” or “real.” The result is real anguish and frustration nonetheless.

The past isn’t as over as I had glibly assumed.

PS: I ran across Baldwin’s word in the stunningly good documentary I Am Not Your Negro. You can watch it for  free via Amazon Prime.

 

01 Apr

Hugo Bezdek, a Rose Bowl Coach Who Did Fairly Hilarious Things

Hugo Bezdek, the the football coach who led the Hogs to their first undefeated season, was a bit of a character. Or at least, that’s how a former NBC sports director described him during a yarn he told about the third time Bezdek led a team (Penn State in this case)  to the Rose Bowl:

“Even though the game was scheduled to start at 2:15, Penn State didn’t arrive in the Rose Bowl until 2:30,” Bill Stern said in 1948, according to the Daily Capital Journal in Salem, Oregon. “When State did show up, the surly Mr. Bezdek said his team had been caught in a traffic jam. By this time, Coach Henderson of USC was hot under the collar. He didn’t believe Bezdek’s story, and bluntly accused the Penn State mentor of stalling. Whereupon Bezdek blew up.

He turned to Henderson and at the top of his lungs shouted: ‘You’re a liar!’ And at the same time he invited Henderson to take off his glasses. However the two coaches (who were more ‘up’ for the game than their players) were separated before any blows were struck…”

Bezdek had a temper, no doubt, and it sometimes got the best of him. In the Jan. 10, 1948 issue of the Daily Capital Journal, sports editor Fred Zimmerman wrote that according to a former player, “He was like that before every game. He worked all of the angles to get his players keyed up to a fighting pitch and he wasn’t averse to insulting anybody who crossed his path.”

Zimmerman continued: “Bezdek’s psychology, or whatever one may care to term his maneuvers, once got unexpected results. He invaded the realms of the chef of a prominent Portland restaurant yelling state of the steaks served, but he emerged faster than he went in when the cook chased him with the one of his long carving knives.’

Below is yet more evidence of Bezdek’s penchant for getting himself into sticky situations. It comes from the May 31, 1907 Albany Daily Democrat.

Hugo Bezdek

30 Mar

Talking about Muhammad Ali in Arkansas with Kyle Kellams

A deep dive into the Arkansas visit Muhammad Ali took to Little Rock, Pine Bluff and Fayetteville 

I recently went on to the KUAF radio show “Ozarks at Large” to discuss the intricacies of Muhammad Ali’s 1969 to Arkansas. Give a listen to my talk with host Kyle Kellams here.

The visit lasted about five days in total and was filled to the brim with controversy. At one point, Muhammad Ali visited Pine Bluff. Below is excerpt from my upcoming book: African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks and other Forgotten Stories [scroll through a digital preview here]

Ali then drove to Pine Bluff, where he walked into the union of what is now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, the state’s largest historically-black school. A similar scene played out as had at LRU, with Ali counseling against violence while speaking against “forced” integration.

At that time, Ali was appealing his draft into the U.S. Army on the grounds he was a Black Muslim minister. A UAPB student asked him why he didn’t try to enter the military as a chaplain if he opposed violence on religious grounds. Ali answered by saying if he did, he would not be allowed to say what he believed.[] Ali also read some poetry and a song he had composed named “It’s All Over Mighty Whitey.”

The city of Pine Bluff is in Arkansas’ Delta, straddling the southern and eastern parts of the state, which in the late 1800s developed into a hotbed for the state’s first mass, black-nationalist movement: the Back-to-Africa migrations.

Approximately 600 black Arkansans emigrated to Liberia, an independent, west African republic which symbolized racial pride to many African Americans in the 19th century. Liberia’s elected black government offered free land to American settlers, an especially enticing offer to poor black farmers increasingly burdened by exploitative tenancy arrangements. Interest in Liberian immigration peaked in the 1890s, which was “a time when cotton prices hit rock bottom and white racism reached its zenith,” UCA historian Kenneth Barnes points out in “Journey of Hope: The Back-to-Africa Movement in Arkansas.” “The 1890s saw the greatest number of lynchings in American history. As it became increasingly clear that black Americans would not get a seat at the table, Liberia posed an alternative to integration, an escape to an all-black world.”


My upcoming book focuses squarely on the legacy of African-American athletes in the state of Arkansas, and the important interconnections between the sports world and larger issues of race relations and civil rights. Make sure to sign up to pre-order your own copy when it releases later in 2017.

Click here to get more info and be notified of its release.

For more info about Ali’s trip to Little Rock, check out this post.

25 Oct

Bart Hester and War Memorial Stadium

Below is some interesting insight from the Arkansas Times’ Max Brantley, via the Times’ Week in Review podcast. He discusses a move in state government to cut funding for Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium in half — a decision, that at this point, will be delayed until at least January 2018.

“I think War Memorial Stadium is a slightly different animal, pretty clearly this was a piece of red meat thrown to Senator Bart Hester from Northwest Arkansas. He’s made this a crusade to cut War Memorial Stadium commission expenses. He hates Little Rock, he hates Central Arkansas. He’s a Northwest Arkansas devotee. He’s a UA graduate. The University of Arkansas is abandoning Little Rock as a place to play football eventually. They’re down to one game a year through 2018 and they may go before then. It makes sense, I have no hard feelings about that. They don’t really care about War Memorial Stadium. It’s a state facility. Hester has tried to say we could spend this $400,000 on foster children. That’s absurd. It’s also hypocritical coming from Hester who fought the Medicaid expansion tooth and nail from beginning to end so he’s got no business talking about helping poor people because he’s against it.

The fact is that the state operates a lot of things at a loss. State parks, for one. We have a tax rebate program that goes to every convention center and arena in the state from the Pine Bluff convention center to the new one they’re going to build on campus at ASU where you get money back because people use these facilities and theoretically spur some economic activity.

War Memorial Stadium has the state high school band championship every year. It has a bunch of state high school football games. It has a lot of other stuff. I’m not the greatest defender ever of War Memorial but there’s a reason it gets state support along with with a lot of other things. This is just pure meanness on Hester’s part. I think it’s a shame that Asa Hutchinson has decided to throw him this bone and say “We’re going to come up with a plan for the future for War Memorial Stadium.”

As Kevin Crass who is a conservative republican lawyer and chairman of the stadium commission said, “There is no plan that can make a stadium like this profitable.” I’ll point you to Verizon Arena, which is a very successful arena and which has lots of big-paying shows every year, it breaks even and it breaks even only because taxpayers own the building and there was no bond call from the building. It operates at a break-even basis.

War Memorial Stadium cannot self-sustain itself without state support. I suspect, and I’ve written, that I believe what’s in mind here is to adopt republican insider Rex Nelson’s idea to convert War Memorial Stadium into a smaller stadium with a running track and have more soccer fields and build this indoor basketball court that the Little Rock Convention Visitors Bureau wants to bring in new basketball tournaments, but to have the city pay for it with the city sales tax. Thanks a lot, I’m not ready for Rex Nelson and Asa Hutchinson to come up with a plan that makes Little Rock burger customers pay for some facility to get the state out of paying for War Memorial Stadium. I think it’s crazy.

I note this week that the governor’s claims have landed a Chinese garment manufacturing plant for Little Rock that includes giving them a 65 percent cut in their property taxes. To get that property tax cut, it’s called ‘payment in lieu of taxes when you get an Act 9 bond issue to build a plant, typically you have to get the approval of your city board of directors and your school board and your Pulaski County quorum court to get that. Hutchinson went over to China and offered it, I guess just assuming we would roll over and take whatever he gives, but he’s going to give the Chinese $3.5 million to build a plant in Little Rock and he wants to take $400,000 away from War Memorial Stadium. It kind of hacks me off.”

05 Aug

Lou Holtz’s Top 3 Most Important Assistant Coach Positions

The former Hogs head coach on why he always hired o-line coaches second, with some Donald Trump endorsement thrown in for good measure.

The below is via Via Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly

“The first thing I wanted was a good defense at court. I got a couple great ones. Monty Kiffen at Arkansas, Barry Alvarez at Notre Dame. The next important is your offensive line, you third was your defensive back to your coach. The offensive line dictates everything. If they have togetherness, they have confidence, and their a unit, it sends a whole message to your offense. When your leaders are the wide receivers, running back, quarterback, you’re going to usually struggle there because they’re all statistically inclined. The offensive line is just about putting points on the board, that’s the only thing.

It’s not just that you have some problems. You look at what we scored in the season. You have two sophomores and a freshman in your starting line-up coming out in the spring. You do have only one senior, Skipper coming back. The offensive line, either you’re playing young people because they’re outstanding, or else because you don’t have an awful lot of options, you’re building for the future. I would like to think it’s because they’re outstanding. Your offensive line. It’s particularly in Enos and Bielema, offense, they have to run the ball, that’s what they want to do. They want to establish the running game. You’ve had a lot of great running backs in the past, you had some very talented, yeah. If you can run the football, that’s when your play action passing come in. You look at Wisconsin when the coach was the head coach of Wisconsin, they always ran the ball really well. Dan Enos, who was a head coach at… Central Michigan.

He left a head coaching job to come there. They obviously had good leadership, the ran the ball very well. Everything should be based on their ability to run the football on offense. I don’t believe that he’s the type that wants to throw the ball 35, 40 times. They don’t play an awful lot of spread offs. The don’t run the spread off. The had a lot of difficulty stopping the spread off last year. I’m sure they’ve studied it in the off season and they’ve come up with a plan. The best way to stop a spread off is your 3-3-5, which is what? Your defensive coordinator. I believe it’s Robb Smith.

His take on Bret Beliema’s performance at  Arkansas

Lou Holtz : I knew Bret, I think Barry Alvarez was playing a football game and he had me come over and visited. Bret Bielema, at that time, was a defensive coordinator. Barry had already announced that he was going to retire and be athletic director. He told me that Bret would be the guy that he hired, he spoke very, very highly of Bret. I’ve known Bret, I’m very impressed with him. I like his attitude. I met his wife when he was dating her. They came to ESPN. I absolutely love her. I think she is a beautiful, talented young lady. I think he’s a very good coach, he’s a very solid coach. I think he’ll do an excellent job. I know he’s been there 3 years and he’s only 18 wins and 20 losses, but he’s building that program.

That’s what people don’t understand. I’ve said this to so many different people. How many good athletes do you have in the start of Arkansas? Every year, you will have anywhere from 12 to 15 big time prospects coming out of the state of Arkansas. They don’t get the national recognition because many people go into the state and try to recruit against Arkansas because everybody’s a hog fan there. Everybody wants to go to the University of Arkansas. Consequently, players are very much unrated when they come in. I remember when I was … Dan Hampton, Jimmy Walker, Dale White, that was our three defensive line. All from Arkansas. I’ll tell you what, they were big time players. Then what you have to do is go to Texas, Florida, Missouri or somewhere. You pick up your other ten or 11, but you can build as good a program entire country. I think Frank Broyles proved that when he was there.

On his endorsement of Trump and pro-life speech at the Republican National Convention

“I said somebody has to be the voice for the unborn child. Everybody should speak about it. That was the majority of the speech. Then I made a comment about where are we as a country. These are facts, these aren’t my facts. We have more people in poverty, welfare, foodstamps then ever before. I made a comment about immigration. The only thing I ever said about immigration: Please come here to become us, don’t come here and want us to become you. I’ve never said a negative word about a person, a nationality, or anything else concerning their character, their integrity, their work habits or love of their family. For somebody to put out a national story said I called deadbeat, that is just a blatant lie. If you really want to upset somebody, tell a lie to them or about them. That’s what upset me so much, in fairness.

The only thing is, maybe my speech about abortion, said it was effective. Everybody has to make their decision for themselves. I made mine for myself. I think we have an obligation. I’ve asked every youngster here: Look at everything and vote your conscience. Republican, democrat, I don’t care. Please study the issues and vote your conscience. That’s all. That’s all.”

 

08 Jul

Legendary Good Byes

muhammad ali arkansas

Only halfway done, 2016 has already seen the deaths of a number of unparalleled sports legends.

Most recently the sports world lost the most towering figure in all of women’s basketball in  longtime Tennessee Volunteers head coach Pat Summitt. She won eight national championships, 16 SEC regular season and tournament titles and put together a perfect 39-0 season in 1998 in which her Vols beat the Lady Razorbacks in Arkansas’ only Final Four appearance. Summitt also won a gold medal as the coach of the 1984 U.S. Women’s Olympic Basketball team and was named the Naismith Basketball Coach of the 20th Century. Naturally, she’s in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

But Summitt was far more than just a basketball coach. A great leader, she lifted her program to heights not before seen in the women’s or men’s game (outside of John Wooden’s UCLA dynasty), inspired millions and changed the way many Americans think about women’s sports.

Hockey legend Gordie Howe, a six-time Hart Trophy winner as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player,  also recently died. Dubbed Mr. Hockey, Howe’s NHL career lasted 26 seasons and resulted in four Stanley Cup wins for the Detroit Red Wings. He also played another six seasons in the World Hockey Association. In all, his pro career stretched from the 1940s through 1980s.

He will connect more than far-flung decades: The new bridge being built over the Detroit River that will connect Michigan and Canada is to be named for Howe. As a tribute to Howe and his iconic #9 jersey, a public visitation with his casket was held in Detroit from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. soon after his passing.

But there was probably no bigger worldwide loss this year than that of Muhammed Ali. A truly transcendent figure, you didn’t need to be a boxing fan to be a fan of the self-described greatest of all-time. Brash, bordering on arrogant, and always controversial during his boxing heyday, Ali lectured at the University of Arkansas among other universities during his suspension from boxing for resisting the draft during the Vietnam War. He eventually returned to the ring and the top of the sport, and spent the three decades after his retirement as one of the world’s most respected ambassadors of sport, religion, and race.

In recent years Parkinson’s disease took him out of the public eye and, as some writers predicted, the neurodegenerative illness eventually took his life. But never his spirit — nor the long shadow he still casts in the world of boxing. The tributes keep rolling in for this transcendent figure who demolished so many walls dividing sports, religion and politics.

When Ali, then Cassius Clay, became heavyweight champion in 1964 he was a 7-1 underdog against Sonny Liston. Born to a sharecropping family is St. Francis County, Ark., Liston spent his childhood working long hours in the fields and taking beatings from his father. As a product of that brutal upbringing, coupled with scant schooling, he eventually landed in a St. Louis prison. In a fortuitous twist of fate, it was prison that freed Liston’s true calling — boxing.

Liston trained hard in jail and, a year after his release, turned pro. He rose to No. 1-ranked contender in six years. In 1962, the fearsome bruiser took on world heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, and 2:06 into the first round felled him with a left hook that Sports Illustrated’s Gilbert Rogin wrote “crashed into Patterson’s cheek like a diesel rig going downhill, no brakes.”

 

Two weeks from now, heavy underdog Chris Arreola faces undefeated WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder in Alabama. The boxing betting is going almost exclusively to Wilder, and right now the odds are 1/16 that he will win. You can get 7/1 odds on an Arreola upset – the same exact numbers for Clay in 1964.

Wilder has reach, while Arreola has the power. If he gets inside to land a knockout punch, expect a new WBC heavyweight title holder.

11 Feb

Packer Willie Davis: Texarkana’s Greatest NFL Star

Willie Davis

 

ROBERT TURBEVILLE — It’s been about 50 years since Dennis Biddle tried to dodge the bull rush of Willie Davis, but Biddle hasn’t forgotten what Davis would do after each big hit — he sang the hits.

Somewhere around six times on a fall night in 1951, Davis sacked Biddle, then the quarterback for Columbia County Negro High School in Magnolia. Each time the Texarkana Booker T. Washington High School lineman took Biddle to the ground, Davis would stand over the quarterback, smile and sing, sometimes voicing lyrics about having “mercy.”

“Willie was just overpowering,” said Biddle, who laughed when recalling the game. “I couldn’t even go back to pass. He was all over me.”

Biddle doesn’t remember Davis as a mean guy, even though Davis made his night miserable and helped the Washington Lions to a 55-0 victory over the Owls.

“He [Davis] was a nice guy. He really was nice,” said Biddle, who went on to play baseball in the Negro leagues. “He was just eager to get going, as I can remember… You could tell he would be a great football player. He had the size.”

After playing for legendary Coach Eddie Robinson at Grambling State, Davis followed with a 12-year career in the NFL that resulted in his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. As a 6-3, 245-pound defensive end, Davis played in five consecutive Pro Bowls and 162 consecutive games and was part of five NFL championships for Vince Lombardi’s dominant Green Bay Packers teams of the 1960s.

Davis, 67, is a millionaire California businessman, the owner of five radio stations across the country and a member of the board of directors for 12 large corporations, including the Packers, Dow Chemical, Kmart and MGM Grand Inc. He’s also a trustee at the University of Chicago, where he received a master’s degree in business administration, and Marquette University.

A self-described emotional player, Davis doesn’t recall the specifics or remember singing in that game against Biddle and Columbia County in 1951: “It was just probably my moment to enjoy the song,” he said with a laugh. But Davis is eager to credit the experiences he gained while playing at a black high school in Arkansas for the success he found afterward on and off the football field.

He even concluded an April 2002 interview with a plea for Arkansas high school students to play sports.

“One thing I would say is playing athletics in Arkansas was where it all started for me,” Davis said. “It turned out be a great experience…. Nothing quite compares to enjoying some athletic success. I feel very blessed.”


 

This excerpt is from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Untold Stories, a series of feature articles from 2002 which provide the state’s only detailed resource on its black sports history. Unfortunately this anthology, which preserves a vital part of our state’s heritage, is out of print. I’m organizing a petition to change this. Click here for more info


 

A LONG ROAD FROM TEXARKANA 

Davis never missed a game because of an injury while playing 2 years in high school, 4 years in college and 12 years in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns and the Packers. But he almost missed his second game, and all the games that would follow, because of his mother, Nodie Bell Davis.

“Yeah, I had played my first game in high school before my mother actually knew I was involved with the football team,” Davis said with a laugh.

Davis’ junior season was his first to play organized football, and his team was scheduled to go out of town for its second game. That’s when Davis had to tell his coach, Nathan “Tricky” Jones, that his mother didn’t allow him to play football.

Jones went to Davis’ home before leaving town for the game to convince Davis’ mother to let him play. It didn’t work. Nodie Bell Davis was convinced her oldest son would get hurt.

“There was an individual a year ahead of me who had been injured during my sophomore year,” Davis said. “His name was Carson Amos, and he never had the use of his right arm again. Every parent and every guardian was kind of concerned about their sons playing football.”

When his coach finally gave up trying to convince Davis’ mother to let him play, Jones left for the school. That’s when Davis gave his mother an ultimatum.

“I just kind of fell apart,” Davis said. “That was the first time I ever did something I felt ashamed about. I threatened to leave home if she didn’t let me play football. At the last minute, she said ‘If you’re going to be that determined, you go and play football Just don’t come to me when you get hurt.’ I remember that almost like it was yesterday.”

He sprinted out of the house soon after gaining her permission and raced about a mile to the school to try to catch the team bus. When he reached campus and turned a corner to head to where the team was to meet, he saw the bus pull away. That’s when he really started hoofing it.

“I saw the bus leave the other way, so I turned and basically tried to cut the bus off,” he said. “I got close enough that somebody looked out the back of the bus and saw me.”

Davis played in that game, and more than 200 games followed. 

His mother refused to watch him play until the final game of his senior season, which was the black state championship. Washington, which featured about six players recruited by historically black colleges, won the game to cap an undefeated season.

“Would you know that I was knocked unconscious in that game?” Davis said. “I only remember one other time when I was even close. But by the time I left college and got into the pros, she had become a total convert. You could almost hear her up in the stands.

“At the Hall of Fame induction [in 1981], I was trying to give a speech, and I looked out and saw her. She was crying, and I just lost it. I think I managed to say, ‘Hey, Mom, it’s a long road from Texarkana.’ ”

Four years later, his mother died.

Willie Davis’ Humble beginnings

Life in Texarkana wasn’t easy for Davis, a Lisbon, La., native who was the oldest of three children. His parents split up when he was 8, and he grew up in poverty, working two jobs in high school.

One of those jobs was at the Texarkana Country Club, where his mother was the head cook, and that was about all the exposure Davis had to white America while growing up, he said. He worked in the locker room and helped shine members’ shoes and pick up their towels.

That doesn’t mean Davis totally was tuned in to segregation issues.

“You probably sense that there’s unfairness about some things. You don’t deal with that side of it every day,” Davis said. “Most of my life was lived in a black environment at that time. It’s probably more simple than most folks think.

“I obviously interfaced with white people every day. In fact, it was kind of interesting. These were people that at least treated me with far more dignity than I’m sure I would have been in another situation where there were not as many affluent people. I still left the club and went home to the environment that I was brought up in and most comfortable with.”

Two weeks into his rookie season with the Cleveland Browns, Davis was drafted into the Army, where he played his first game against a white man. Even then, he said it wasn’t that big of a deal “because of how competitive it can be.”

“When I lined up, I wanted to win the battle whether the person was white or black,” Davis said. “There were so many things that influence how you play the game, you don’t get captured in racial terms.”

There was one incident, a game against the host Detroit Lions, when he said he couldn’t help but get caught up in a racial term. Davis would not name the player involved, but he described the incident as “one of the more upsetting moments I had in life.”

“It was pretty clear that I was taking advantage of speed and other things to give him a very tough time,” Davis said, recalling that game against the Lions. “I was down on the ground, and he kicked me in the mouth and called me the big ‘N’ word. It was probably the first time I ever got really upset. I would say that did not help the rest of his day. I not only tried to be competitive, I wanted to do something to him. I remember that because it was almost the only time I felt a sense of the race thing and getting it in my mind-set.”


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14 Sep

Press Conference Transcript from Arkansas-Toledo (aka The MACastrophe)

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Bret Bielema after Arkansas’ 12-16 upset loss to Toledo last Saturday:

ON NOT BEING ABLE TO RUN

It’s on me. It’s on us as coaches. We got to give them a better plan. If we can execute it, a lot of times we get jammed up, have big people up in there and we just can’t move them. Teams are doing a lot of stunting on us, doing a lot of things last year and this year coming across their face and we’ve got to be able to wash those big guys down. We definitely got to get our front people playing a lot better at the point of attack.

ON PHYSICALITY

You know I hoped from what I’d seen, and what I believed, and what I thought was there, was we are a team that can play physically. You take the first two games, especially in our ability to run the football, and our answer would be no. Defensively we still had some good plays, and we made some nice hits, but overall they were still able to run the ball sometimes on third and short and fourth and short, and we can’t have that happen.

They were getting rid of it pretty quick… We were getting our hands up, thought we were going to get a tipped ball here or there, but sometimes that ball doesn’t exactly happen. There were so many times where it looks like we had some [pass break ups] and the ball is in the air, and it just kind of fell flat. Then we finally come up with one and it gets overturned upstairs. It was one of those days where the ball didn’t really bounce our way, but you’ve got to make it bounce your way in a game like today.

ON OFFENSE, THOUGH,  I know our [wide receivers] were on the ground a lot during intended routes. It’s going to be obviously up to us to correct and stay on our feet no matter what happened they got to be able to get there and be able to stay up.

ON GIVING TOLEDO PROPS

Toledo is very well coached and came here expecting to win and obviously they didn’t disappoint. The ones disappointed today were us, starting with myself… We really hang our hat on five edges that we built this thing on. We will continue to build it on moving forward. The fifth one is the most telling is you earn everything in life, you earn a victory and you earn a defeat. Today we earned that defeat by what we weren’t able to do and obviously allowed them to do.

ON ALL THOSE PENALTIES

I’m not a big stats guy. The only thing I worry about is the win and loss column, but to see the number of yards we gained, the time of possession, the first downs, we really didn’t turn the ball over but our one turnover was critical. Obviously it was in the red zone, and it swung huge momentum but also obviously left points off the board. The most frustrating thing was that came right after we just put it in the end zone and had points taken off the board because of the penalty. We had 9 penalties. They had 8, but our 9 penalties were absolutely critical, taking away yardage – a couple of them were on big plays… Last week we had six penalties and three of them were unforced on special teams. I believe we had four holding calls today if I’m not mistaken. A lot of times it’s just getting in the right position, finishing the block the right way, being lazy with your feet, and somebody’s starting to fall away from you and you just grab. We obviously got to eradicate that from our practice and eliminate from our games.

ON LEARNING FROM MISTAKES

The good news is they are very correctable. They will be corrected. All those things fall on my shoulders. I am embarrassed for our fans, the people who traveled today. For all the people in Little Rock here. This game means a lot to them. It means a lot to us. To not play well here for the second year in a row is very frustrating…

ON INJURIES

We also had some guys get banged up, injured. Everybody hopefully will come back out of that all right because we’re going to need the 70 guys that came over here today to get better in a hurry, starting with tomorrow’s practice. As far as the guys that got injured, I really don’t have any information on them. I know when I walked out to see [Eric] Hawkins, he was moving his hands and his extremities and stuff like that. I think it was just a pretty big precaution there. He had some pain in his stomach and also was a little light headed, so I don’t really know if there is anything more than that out there. We obviously had a couple guys suspended before the half – some guys that were a little late to our meetings on Friday. That’s why I suspended Jared [Cornelius] and Dominique Reed but those guys joined us in the second half… Alex [Collins] really hadn’t practiced with us since Wednesday. He spent Wednesday night in the ER. He had an infection that kind of got the better of him. He really didn’t practice until today but at times he flashed out there today. Rawleigh [Williams II] keeps coming along. Unfortunately we lost Kody [Walker] there. He jammed his thumb up a little bit. We didn’t think he could carry the football in the third and fourth quarters, so we got to continue that and just bring that along.  

Our number 1 team goal this year is zero distractions and if we were distracted today to start the game in any way, it was very evident that we weren’t ourselves in the first half. At times, we flashed back, but it just wasn’t good enough.

[UPDATE-KEON HATCHER SUFFERED A BROKEN FOOT WHICH WILL SIDELINE HIM AT LEAST SIX WEEKS]

ON OFFENSIVE LINE

We try to get our five best players on the field, there ain’t no doubt about that. I don’t feel any remorse in that regards but we’ve got to get our five players playing better. In this recruiting thing, this process, everybody wants to make a big deal over offensive line and we have done a nice job doing it. We probably have five and could throw [Brian Wallace] in there – six, maybe seven, guys that could be possibly SEC ready to play. In this league you need to have O-line depth just as much as you need D-line depth, and we’re of course just not there yet.

ON SCORING

I think we really got to look at our red zone package. Being able to run the football has got to be first and foremost. We can’t just keep taking shots in the end zone. Everything’s got to be coordinated there… We’re not going to win many games by scoring the amount of points we did today… we’ve got to execute better and clean up the blocking. There’s too many things that were in the running backs’ faces before they crossed the line of scrimmage.

ON MANAGING THE CLOCK

Well I think we got to take what they are giving you. We were throwing the football I think fairly well. For what we do and how we want to be able to manage a clock, we got to run the football a lot better than we did today…

ON TOLEDO’S OFFENSE

[Toledo] went through some deeper routes over the middle, I think, and they took advantage. They got inside us, some funnels, and some routes that we were trying to re-route over the top and got inside. Obviously any time you got a third and extra long, there’s no question we got to come up with a better package or better idea of what we can do to stop them.

ON THE NEAR TOUCHDOWN PASS IN THE CLOSING SECONDS

All of our coaches called it, as soon as we lined up, they said [Hunter] Henry was going to be open on the shake route. Obviously he was, and we just overthrew him a little bit and weren’t able to convert it but that’s kind of the story of the day. Touchdown opportunity is there and we missed it by about a foot.

ON FINISHING STRONG

Everybody strains on that last two minutes. We could have won that game so many times in the first half, maybe even the third quarter. We just weren’t able to do it. Everybody wants to concentrate on those last two minutes and I was actually halfway pleased with how we moved the ball there with 45 seconds… Our guys talked about how we had actually been in that same exact scenario two times in the last two weeks, practicing two minute [drills], and came away with a touchdown. I think they had some confidence going into it but we’ve got to play a fourth quarter game to make those games a win.

ON HOGS’ PUNT ATTEMPT GAFFE

He snapped the ball right over the guy’s head…  Drew just let the ball sail a little bit. Toby did a nice job even getting a hand on it. I thought he was going to be able to snake one off and get that out of there, but that was a huge, huge factor in the game. On the flip side of it, when we blocked that field goal and our offense went down there and scored I thought that took the momentum back…You have got to win these types of games, but we didn’t do enough in the end.

ON LACK OF DEPTH AT FULLBACK AND LINEBACKER

We’re still trying to train a few guys. I think the glaring thing we always have to think about as coaches during recruiting is a position that you traditionally you got to find a guy who can adapt to that role as fullback and middle linebacker. When Josh went down we had to move Brooksie over to Mike and put Dre in at Will. Those are two positions that we didn’t have a lot depth at is fullback and when Mike linebacker and it kind of shows its fleas now.


 

If you like these hyper-detailed interview excerpts, make sure to check out post-Toledo excerpts from B. Allen,  M.Smothers and R. Gaines through my email interview newsletter. More info here.


 

 

TOLEDO’S QB

…They did a great job of reading coverage. He for the most part threw some pretty clean balls that were only in a place where those players could catch it. I thought in the third and extra longs he was a very accurate thrower down the field. Which sometimes that doesn’t always go hand in hand. They came here with a really good plan.

ON PRESSURING TOLEDO’S QB PHILLIP ELY 

We kind of wanted to bring some things, brought some weak side pressures. I do think a little bit defensively we got on our heels a little bit, and we’ve got to get our confidence back to get those guys be attacking and pressing downhill. When we’re not, and if we’re standing at the line of scrimmage and just put our hands in the air, that’s not going to get it done. We’ve got to move the line of scrimmage and be able to play with our hands up on the quarterback’s throwing.

TIME TO PUT THAT “UNCOMMON” THEME IN MOTHBALLS?

It’s an uncommon thing in a bad way, probably. The thing that I really try to use that for is in recruiting and trying to develop a certain man, certain kind of character or kid that would withstand something exactly like this. They’re going to have all the reasons in the world for people to doubt and say certain things and I think you’ve got to look inside yourself. I really stress to our guys that we earned this loss today and it started with me. I think the part that we as a program have built ourselves on is you earn everything in life. We’ll do everything we can tomorrow to get this thing back on track and work our tails off during the week to get an opportunity to play Texas Tech and see where it goes.

CONCERN WITH PASS DEFENSE?

Yeah, absolutely. Anytime you give up some yards it’s a play that’s supposed to be like we did with some third and extra long, you can’t just pencil in on just one thing. I think past defense is affected by pass rush and pass rush a lot of times is affected by past defense. If they can cover them up maybe they can get half a second more pass rush and get the lay in on the quarterbacks, so it’s a little bit of everything and we’ll get our hand on it.

ON THE POSITIVE SIDE

It’s not a conference loss. There’s a silver lining in any of it. One of our big things is we talk about a 1-and-0 mentality. I was on a team at Kansas State when I was a young coach that lost to Marshall early in the year. We were ranked number five or six in the country and really got our tails handed to us that day pretty handedly. Went on to have a season that actually won a conference championship.

The 1-and-0 mentality everybody wants to talk about it when you’re rolling, but it’s really designed in rough times. It’s designed for when you don’t win and you got to focus on that next opportunity. Tomorrow will be a delicate balance between putting this game to bed and learning from the mistakes that we have to, but also moving forward.

… We got guaranteed ten more opportunities. Nobody’s going to be more ready to play us than Texas Tech this coming Saturday. Obviously to go on the road and have three straight games in the SEC is a challenge of itself. We’re going to have all kinds of different people with all different reasons firing shots at us. We’ve got to dig ourselves into our foxhole and the only one who can battle ourselves out of there is ourselves. 

For similar post-Toledo breakdowns from Brandon Allen, Mitch Smothers and Rohan Gaines, check out my new interview roundups newsletter here. Just scroll to the bottom.