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.

21 Jul

That Time the Arkansas Razorbacks Football Team Went On Strike: Part 2

football strike

Below is Part 2 of a two-part series. Click here for Part 1.

Within days of The X-Ray’s release, Tillman expelled all 36 editors. In response, most of the university’s 724 students quickly signed a petition pledging to attend no classes until the 36 were reinstated. Only seven students attended class the next day, according to Tackett.

Those students’  names aren’t known, but it’s highly improbable more than a few of them would have been football players. Even in an era in which a roster could be around 16 players*, it’s logical to infer most if not all of the football team participated in this strike. Furthermore, we know that Hugo Bezdek**—the head football coach himself—officially endorsed the students’ Progressive agenda. Bezdek, who would ultimately become a college football Hall of Famer after stops at Oregon and Penn Sate, was also the athletic director and baseball coach.

The stalemate between students and administrators lasted almost a week. “There were some tense moments for those who were expelled, who didn’t know whether they were going to have to finish their college careers elsewhere,” Fayetteville historian Charlie Allison told Brady Tackett. “Even those who were struck weren’t what would happen.”

As the week rolled on, the tide of public opinion shifted in the students’ favor. Local Fayetteville merchants, for instance, capitalized on the unrest. Some put up posters displaying their support for the students, Allison said. Local theaters even offered free admission to students during the strike.

On March 2, 1912, only a week after The X-Ray’s publication, Gov. George Donaghey (then chairman of the board of trustees) arrived for a specially convened board meeting with UA faculty and students. There, the student’s representatives argued for the reinstatement for the 36 on the grounds that the The X-Ray’s mission had been to improve the school’s overall quality. Their arguments impressed Donaghey. So the governor decided to repeal the 1905 law and reinstate the 36 students with a promise that faculty would investigate their complaints.

The students, in turn, acquiesced to Donaghey’s request for no celebratory parties or parades. Instead, student-faculty relations were to be quietly mended. Indeed, on March 4, a student representative submitted a formal request for extra class work to make up for time lost in the protests, Tackett wrote.

Although the Mizzou and Arkansas protests differ in so many ways, one strong tie is the amount of stress they caused for their respective university presidents. In 2015, Missouri President Tim Wolfe announced his resignation in the immediate aftermath of the football Tigers’ strike. But back in 1912, before the onslaught of instantaneous news coverage and video, it took a little longer. President Tillman quietly announced his retirement at the 1912 commencement ceremony.

*The 1912 team was 16 players, which was a typically thin roster in the Hugo Bezdek era, according to A Story of Arkansas Football by Orville Henry and Jim Bailey. According to Phil Huntley, who played on the 1909-1911 Razorback teams, the talent and overall team attitude took a dip in 1911 and 1912, a time when the roster had too many “prima donnas.” 

Huntley recalled traveling to Austin for a game against the University of Texas in 1911, “a game we should have won.” Instead, Texas won 12-0. “The Texas coach came by afterward and said, “‘You know something, Hugo? Five of your men damn near beat my 11.’ He knew.”

PS: The 1911 opener featured the biggest blowout win in Razorback history: a 100-0 home shellacking of SW Missouri. The 2017 Razorbacks are expected to win their opener against the consistently woeful Florida A&M, too, but don’t expect quite the same margin of victory. It should be greater than the 31.5-point line in the Rice-Stanford opener according to major sportsbooks

**According to “The X-Ray Incident,” written by Chris Branam, in the Winter 2012 edition of the Washington County Historical Society’s Flashback.

09 Jul

Ken Hamlin, Quinton Caver, Eddie Jackson & Brandon Holmes on Hogs’ Defensive Woes

Ken Hamlin

The Razorback rosters which Houston Nutt coached from 1998-2007 produced 22 NFL draftees on the defensive ball. In the decade since then, Bobby Petrino, John L. Smith and Bret Bielema have produced a total of six defensive NFL draft picks.

It is true that Houston Nutt, on the whole, recruited more highly talented defensive players. Ahmad Carroll, for instance, was rated at the top of his class of cornerbacks coming out of high school.  But the disparity between decades doesn’t just boil down to talent. It involves attitude, too, a group of former Nutt players recently told sports radio host Bo Mattingly.

Two of them—Ken Hamlin and Quinton Caver–were drafted in the second round. Below are edited excerpts from the quartet’s discussion of what has changed in the last decade, and especially with last year’s especially grievous defensive debacle.

Ken Hamlin: One thing that I’ve said, and we talk about it a lot amongst ourselves, but the energy, just the type of tenacity that I think we had when we played, when we were there, I haven’t seen it. I don’t know if I’ve seen it since we’ve left… I can’t say it’s a knock on the players or not, but it just it doesn’t seem like we get the people in that really want to …

The inconsistency I saw last year, it was so bad in key games. You think about A&M being a key game, going into the Alabama game the following week, and you give up almost 40 points. [45 points, actually] I think we led the SEC in big plays over 20 yards and, I think, we broke a record for Arkansas within like four games, five games of the season. It’s just too many big plays and not any guys that are going to step up be the one to say, “You know what—no more.”

Quinton Caver: Ken Hamlin, Eddie, and also Brandon can attest to this, as Coach [Bobby]  Allen used to tell us: Once we cross that white line, you got to turn the switch on, it’s all attitude. You have to want to do it when it comes down to it. You have to be the one like, “I’m going to make this play,” or “I’m going to make this stop.” Everybody had that mentality on the defense, not just one person.

We all wanted to be around the ball, we all wanted to make a big play. That’s what you have to have, and you have to have someone that’s going to step in and step up and say, “Follow me, let’s get this done, regardless. We have to get this dealt with, we have to get this done.” It’s all about your mentality.

I know the guys have it here, they’re just making sure that they translate that not only on the playing field, but also in the classroom as well, when you’re studying the film. You got to hold each one accountable.

Mattingly: Brandon Holmes, is it different now with players than it was when you guys were around? How do you think locker rooms might be different now?

Brandon Holmes: I’m pretty sure they got a lot of different distractions, but at the end of the day, it’s about the core nucleus, man. It’s about how you were brought up, and what you wanted to accomplish. That was one of the reasons why I came to Arkansas. Going from seeing other schools, I was like, “This is a true family atmosphere and there’s nothing like anything else I’ve seen.” I would definitely say it’s just the will to want to be able to make something happen.

Ken Hamlin: Regardless of how many bells and whistles you have—I know we have all the updated facilities and everything—[but] you still got go back to the grind that got you here. I think a lot of them lose that grind that really got them to this point. It goes to getting a little bit comfortable because we start getting spoiled. As a defensive player, you got to be ready to get down and dirty. It’s not about coming out of the game clean. It’s about having some bruises, and being beat up, and trying to beat somebody else up.

I think we have to get back to that mentality of, you know what? We’re going to go and enforce our will. We had a “Code Red” when we played. That needs to be reinforced because it just doesn’t seem that we have a defense that wants to force their will on someone else. We want to react, and we don’t want to be ones that make that offense react.

We used to have defenses where we knew the quarterbacks weren’t going to hold the ball for longer than two seconds. We got to get back to that.

Eddie Jackson: When we was in it, our defense was the offense. The team thrived, they got pumped up on how well we would do. When we all came in, we came into a situation where we had the Kenoy Kennedys, the David Barretts in the secondary and those guys, we followed their lead. When we all came in as the secondary—me, Ken Hamlin, Tony Bua, Lawrence Richardson, Marvin Jackson, Batman[Ahmad Carroll]—all these guys we had these guys that, basically, showed us the ropes.

I just feel like, right now, there’s a disconnect with, like what Ken is saying, it’s basically having that dog mentality: “When we go out there you know what? Don’t forget the offense but we can create our own plays, we can do our own thing and not just rely on the offense.” That’s what we used to think.

We used to have a situation where we would compete over batted balls, interceptions, we would try to create plays within a game on our own, and not rely on the offense. That’s, ultimately, why we had basically the top secondary in the SEC when we were playing.

The above originally interviews were originally given on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly.

Arkansas is the SEC’s eighth-most likely team to win the 2017 national championship—behind Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Auburn, Tennessee and Texas A&M—according to major sportsbooks.

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.


24 Jun

In Malik Monk, Michael Jordan Finally Has a Protege In His Own Likeness

Malik Monk

Michael Jordan has been an NBA owner since 2006, when he bought a minority stake in what was then the Charlotte Bobcats. He’s seen some talented, high-scoring guards come through the franchise in that time, including Jason Richardson, Corey Maggette, Ben Gordon and Kemba Walker. He occasionally dishes advice to his players and has even played a few one-on-one.

Before this week, though, Jordan never had the opportunity to mentor someone who plays like him. That changed Thursday night, when the Charlotte Hornets drafted Lepanto native Malik Monk.

Even when Malik Monk was a sophomore in high school, I pointed out he’s the closest thing Arkansas has ever produced to its own M.J. The rest of the nation began catching on in full this past December after his 47-point explosion against Jordan’s alma mater. In that UNC detonation, broadcaster Bill Raftery compared him to M.J. (and Jerry West, to boot).

Monk finished his only season in college as a 20-point scorer with a devastatingly effective midrange jumper. He doesn’t yet have the fadeaway M.J. developed, but his three-point shot (he made nearly 40% of his nearly 7 attempts per game) is already superior. Many speculated he would be drafted by the New York Knicks with the No. 8 pick of this year’s draft. When he dropped out of the Top 10, his college coach John Calipari said he knew he wouldn’t slide past Charlotte at No. 11. “I knew that he wasn’t going to fall by Michael,” Calipari said. “He plays like Mike.”

As talented, explosive, skilled and fundamentally sound as Malik Monk is on the offensive side of the ball, don’t expect him to evoke M.J.’s otherworldly defense any time soon. For starters, at 6-3, he doesn’t have the length of an M.J., who stood 6-6 and had longer arms. And Monk himself has said he needs to learn to give max effort on that side of the ball each time out.

But, then again, Malik Monk just needs to be a good defender—not a great one—to do what the Hornets will need him to do in order to improve their bottom-of-the-barrell 2018 NBA Championship odds according to major sportsbooks.

In Jordan’s era and earlier in the 21st century, NBA rules allowed more physical contact, which allowed defense-first players who couldn’t shoot well (e.g. Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace) to play major roles on championship teams. The modern NBA, however, allows for far less physical contact and puts a premium on players’  ability to create and make shots. The Golden State Warriors, the modern era’s best team, regularly unleash at least four players on the court at the same time who can not only create for themselves, but others.

This has created an evolved style in which great offense tends to beat good-to-great defense on most days. To beat the Warriors, or the Cavaliers or Spurs for that matter, the Hornets “got to put the ball in the basket. That becomes your defense,” Kenny Smith, Michael Jordan’s college teammate, said on the NBA Draft 2017 broadcast. “If [Monk] learns how to score the same the way he did in college, against taller, bigger, faster players, then he is what they needed.”

We’ll see how rapidly Monk can pick up the intricacies of Charlotte’s offense and get the consistency of defensive effort up to an acceptable level. He, for one, shows no lack of confidence involving anything to do with basketball.

After the draft, Monk gushed about the opportunity to learn from Michael Jordan. “I think he’ll teach me a lot and I’ll take an even bigger step each year. Each year I’m going to try to learn as much as I can from him.”

And if he gets the chance to play M.J. one-on-one?.

“I’m going to beat him,” Monk said with a smile.

All-Time Highest Selected Arkansan Guards* In the NBA Draft 

1.(t) Eddie Miles (North Little Rock): Pick 4, 1964 Draft

1.(t)Mike Conley (Fayetteville): Pick 4, 2007 Draft

2. Ron Brewer (Fort Smith): Pick 7, 1978 Draft

3. (t) Fat Lever (Pine Bluff): Pick 11, 1982 Draft

3. (t) Malik Monk (Lepanto): Pick 11, 2017 Draft


*I’m looking at players who primarily played guard in both college and the NBA. Sidney Moncrief and Scottie Pippen both were Top 5 draft picks, but the former played more as a forward in college while the latter played forward in the pros. 

09 Jun

That Time Black Muslims Interviewed Chicago Bears Legend George Halas: Part 2

George Halas

Nowadays, black quarterbacks are commonplace on the NFL landscape. It appears no native African-American Arkansan has yet suited up for an NFL team as a quarterback, but all the same the state does have some tangential connections. Former Razorback Tarvaris Jackson, an Alabama native, played a decade in the NFL and got a Super Bowl ring in 2014 with the Seattle Seahawks.

Less well known is that Stuttgart native Eddie Boone nearly tried out to be a black NFL quarterback pioneer in the early 1960s. At Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Boone had been the teammate of future NFL star Elijah Pitts and after graduation drew interest from the Los Angeles Rams for a tryout, he told me. At this point, though, black quarterbacks were an extreme rarity. Those who did get into the league, such as Willie Thrower and Charlie “Choo Choo” Brackins, barely got any playing time at the position at all. Most prospects (e.g. Sandy Stephens) were moved to other positions, and that’s what the Rams wanted to do with Boone.

Instead of switching positions and living far from home, Boone decided to stay home, get married and begin a highly successful high school coaching career. Indeed, while working in Menifee in the mid 1960s, he coached the first scholarship black Razorback and became the first black coach to compete against all-white AAA teams. Read more about his fascinating story in my new book “African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks and other Forgotten Stories.

Around the same time as Boone’s almost-professional foray, Chicago Bears coach/owner George Halas discussed the state of the black quarterback with the Muhammad Speaks newspaper. Click here for the first part of his 1963 interview. Below is the second part:

Asked if he would like to become the Branch Rickey of football, Halas answered, ‘I already am. Remember Willie Thrower* about eight years ago?’ We tried him out at quarterback but he didn’t have the arm.”

The Bear mentor said there is “quite a scramble going on now among professional teams to get players from Negro colleges. You can understand my interest,” Halas explained, “when you consider such men as Willie Galimore and Herman Lee, who came to us from Florida A&M University (Tallahassee).

“Jake Gather, coach of the Florida A&M Rattlers, is one of the best football minds in the country. He sent us four players from his squad and we now have signed him as a scout.”

Halas went to his files and showed a Muhammad Speaks reporter some of the scouting reports he has on players at Negro colleges. He said he had high hopes for one player, whose name he did not want to disclose at this time. The veteran coach thinks he helped the team in the latest football draft and said, “Our chances of winning the championship (1963) are fairly good.**”

*Willie Thrower played the Chicago Bears in 1953. “He was “the first black NFL quarterback of the modern mold,” according to former Deadspin writer Greg Howard. “He led his Michigan State team to a national championship in 1952, his senior season. Thrower went undrafted but was signed by the Chicago Bears, serving as George Blanda’s backup for his one year in the league. His only stats came in relief duty on Oct. 18, 1953, when the coach benched the struggling Blanda for a bit. Baby steps.”

**Well played, Georgy boy. Halas called it: the 1963 Bears would indeed win the NFL championship after an 11-1 season. Don’t expect such glory to be reclaimed in 2017. Most insiders have the Bears finishing with a losing record that begins early on: the Bears are a 6.5 underdog to Atlanta in Week 1 according to football lines in major sportsbooks.

29 May

Jim Barnes: The First NBA Arkansan No. 1 Draft Pick (Part 2)


Back to stocking feet

The shoes Barnes had received from Calhoun two years earlier no longer fit as his feet grew to size 17. Barnes said he was back to playing in his socks. Newton was happy to have Barnes back at his school, but it wouldn’t last long. During a game with a team from Vanndale, Jim Barnes scored 64 points and had 38 rebounds.

“Neither team had uniforms,” Barnes said. “They all were wearing bib overalls and I had on jeans. We were playing outside on a dirt court with lines that were marked in lime. The baskets were two telephone poles with a rim and backboard nailed to it.” Barnes’ performance drew a one-line write-up in the local paper, which just happened to be read by traveling insurance agent Dan Toma, who was also a recruiter for Stillwater High School Coach “Red” Loper.

“He wanted to see the phenomenon,” Jim Barnes said. “He visited our house, and we played some one-on-one.” By the end of the day, Toma had convinced Barnes to transfer to Stillwater. Jobs were arranged for Barnes’ mother and stepfather, J.L. Person, and a home was provided.

It is not known exactly when Barnes moved, but he didn’t suit up at Stillwater High School until his junior season, Haskins said. “I was glad to be out because I thought I would have a better opportunity at an integrated school,” Barnes said. “In Tuckerman, I spent all my free time picking and chopping cotton.”

Barnes, 6-8, 220, played the entire regular season before the Oklahoma Activities Association intervened. They discovered he had been recruited illegally and ruled him ineligible for one year, Haskins said.

Stillwater claimed the state boys basketball title despite the loss of Barnes.

While ineligible the first part of his senior season, Barnes played pickup games with the Oklahoma State players to stay in shape until he became eligible for district play. “The [Stillwater] team had won like one game during the year before that, but when Jim came back they didn’t lose and won another state title,” Haskins said.

Out of Stillwater

Oklahoma State basketball Coach Henry Iba figured he had a lock on Barnes since he had been scrimmaging with his team. Jim Barnes dropped a bombshell when he opted to attend Cameron Junior College in Lawton, Okla., instead.

“They were mad,” Barnes said of Iba and his staff. “I just didn’t think academically I had the foundation to make it at a big college.”

Jim Barnes averaged 29.8 points per game and shot 64.7 percent from the floor in his two years at Cameron. He scored a high of 50 points against the Oklahoma City freshman team and 40 or more on four other occasions. He broke all the school records and got on track academically.

Haskins on the prowl

Numerous coaches made the trek to Lawton to see Barnes play. None were more often than Haskins, who was just in his second season at Texas Western in 1962. “I came in on Aug. 3, [1961] and the team was pretty well set,” Haskins said. “The next year I spent all my time after one guy — Jim Barnes.

“I spent my entire $5,000 recruiting budget putting gas in my old car and driving to Lawton and feeding Jim. He didn’t eat just one steak, he ate two. [Texas West-ern Athletic Director] George McCarty told me I was crazy, putting all my eggs in one basket.” It worked. Barnes said Haskins and [Nolan] Richardson, then a junior, won him over with their persistence and honesty.

This was Part 2 of an article entitled “Jim ‘Bad News’ Barnes: ‘Bad News’ stopped the presses” which originally published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Untold Stories: Black Sports Heroes Before Integration. Read Part 1 here.

Plenty more from this chapter is available for those who pay primo for the book online or get a rare copy at a library. Sadly, this wonderful, valuable piece of public history is out of print and will not be considered for republication unless sufficient demand is proven, I’ve been told by Democrat-Gazette brass.

To that end, I’m gathering a petition of those who want to see this book back in print, perhaps as a more affordable softcover or e-book. If you want to join the petition, email me at info@heritageofsports.com or leave a comment below.

16 May

Jim Barnes: The First Arkansan No. 1 NBA Draft Pick (Part 1)

Jim Barnes


Legendary Texas-El Paso Coach Don Haskins was at a small high school in Headley, Okla., when he first heard about Jim “Bad News” Barnes. Barnes was a junior at Stillwater (Okla.) High School and his team was facing mighty Pampa, Texas, which had won a number of state titles in a row, Haskins said.

“I heard the score was 94-40,” Haskins said. “I figured Stillwater had met its match. I could-n’t believe it when they told me Stillwater had won. That was long before I knew I’d be recruiting him.” Three years later, Jim Barnes put Haskins’ Texas Western program on the map. The Tuckerman native then starred on the 1964 U.S. Olympic gold medal basketball team before being selected as the No. 1 pick in the 1964 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks. “There’s not been another No. 1 pick from Arkansas,” said former Arkansas Razorbacks Coach Nolan Richardson, a teammate of Barnes at Texas Western. [Au contraire, Nolan. There has been another—Joe Barry Carroll.] “He has to be one of the best to ever come out of the state.”

Recruitment of Jim Barnes, now 61, began much earlier than college. Barnes, who has suffered three strokes and three heart attacks in the past few years, doesn’t remember the exact dates he played at each school, but he is fairly certain he started playing varsity basketball in seventh grade at his hometown black high school in Tuckerman. His journey to basketball stardom began even before that.


Barnes was always the tallest student in his class, said McKinley Newton, former Tuckerman principal. His height might have come from his mother’s side, where his grandfather was 7 feet tall. But hoop dreams were not always Barnes’ aspiration, despite his height. “I was in love with baseball because that was the only sport I knew about,” said Barnes, who lives in Washington.

“Bernice Newton was the cornerstone behind me learning to love basketball. During recess, she made sure we had the semblance of a basketball in our hands.” Barnes learned the game fast, but not as fast as his body was growing, Newton said. “His feet were always getting tangled up,” Newton said. At 13, Barnes was an imposing 6-6 giant, who looked and played like someone much older, Newton said. Barnes helped Tuckerman upset rival Branch High School of Newport, which had dominated the series before Barnes arrived.

His family was so poor and his feet so large that Barnes couldn’t afford shoes for his size 13 feet and played in his socks. Branch Coach Norman Calhoun used this to his ad-vantage to get Barnes to transfer to his school. “He told my mother that he would make sure I had shoes and was fed,” Jim Barnes said. “I had never had a pair of basketball shoes before that.” Off he went to Branch High School, which was 12 miles away. By this time, Barnes was either in eighth or ninth grade, and he had grown to 6-7. “Teammates called me ‘Big Stoop’ because I had stoop over so I didn’t hit my head,” Barnes said. “Others called me ‘High Pockets’ because my rear end was so big.”

Barnes helped Newport finish third in the 1957 black state basketball tournament behind North Little Rock [Scipio] Jones and Merrill High School of Pine Bluff. He made the all-tournament team as a freshman. “He was moved up to varsity because of his size and ability,” said Richard “Deer” Smith, who graduated in 1957 and later played basketball at Arkansas Baptist College. “Newport always had an abundance of athletes, so Jim developed his skills from his surroundings.” The next year Barnes was on the move again; this time to an integrated school in Poplar Bluff, Mo., a team Branch defeated the previous year. Barnes caught the eye of the Poplar Bluff coach. “The coach told people I had [to] come there because I was his cousin,” Barnes said.

“Of course, we weren’t related.” Several complaints to the commissioner of the Missouri State High School Activities Association led to an investigation, and Barnes was ruled ineligible. “He told me not to return until I was ready for the pros,” Jim Barnes said. “I was dejected and returned to Tuckerman.”

This is Part 1 of an article entitled “Jim ‘Bad News’ Barnes: ‘Bad News’ stopped the presses” which originally published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Untold Stories: Black Sports Heroes Before Integration. Read Part 2 here. Sadly, this wonderful, valuable piece of public history is out of print and will not be re-published unless sufficient demand is proven, I’ve been told by Democrat-Gazette brass.

To that end, I’m gathering a petition of those who want to see this book back in print, perhaps as a more affordable softcover or e-book. If you want to join the petition, email me at info@heritageofsports.com or leave a comment below.

01 May

When the all-black Muskogee Hustlers Played in Gentry and Green Forest

In the early 20th century, it appears demand from the all-white communities of Benton and Carroll counties for black baseball was higher than expected. In 1932, for instance, the Muskogee Hustlers, a black team out of Oklahoma, was slated to play a Gentry team made up of local talent.


According to the September 29, 1932 edition Gentry’s Journal-Advance, the local boys included “Clyde Glass and Hawn of the Southern League, Browning and Berry of Des Moines [what the what?!], perhaps Pea Ridge Day, and other players of the Western and other leagues.”

Then, three years later, two black teams were scheduled to play in the Carroll County town of Green Forest. This time it was to be the big-league Kansas City Monarchs, a perennial championship contender in the Negro leagues, versus Muskogee again. Unfortunately, the idea of the Monarchs playing in lil’-ole Green Forest was simply too good to be true, as the below report from the September 10, 1935 Green Forest Tribune shows:

The Green Forest Champs beat the Muskogee Hustlers in a free[wheeling?] affair played on a soft field Monday afternoon. The Hustlers go 12 hits to 11 for the Champs, but the Champs made [theirs] good for 8 runs while the Hustlers counted 7. Coxsey pitched for the locals…except for four unearned runs in the first inning, was [invincible?] until the eighth when a…tally was pushed over. In the ninth the Hustlers added two more. The locals kept pecking at at Ousley and Gains to score persistently, once in the first, twice in the second, once in the third, twice in the fifth and again twice in the ninth, every run being earned.

The locals were playing the scheduled game to have been played between the Hustlers and the Kansas City Monarchs. The team which showed up to play Sunday was shown to be a fake. However, they were allowed to play Sunday to avoid totally disappointing the largest crowd that gathered expectation of seeing the genuine Kansas City Monarchs perform. It may be [said?] in all fairness, that neither the Muskogee manager nor the local manager knew a fake team was to play here until just before the scheduled game Sunday. It seems as the though the manager of the fake Monarchs had misrepresented his team.


Muskogee Hustlers

Green Forest baseball

I don’t know of any first-hand accounts of Muskogee Hustlers playing in these towns, but we do have 2013 testimony from Porter Reed, a former Hustler, that later in the 1930s and 1940s playing in Arkansas was not a pleasant experience.

“I’d go down in Arkansas  and play [location unknown, as the Hustlers also played in bigger towns like Ft. Smith, too] and say ‘My name’s Porter Reed. That’s my name’” Reed said at the 5:05 mark below. “But I wasn’t Porter Reed when I went to Arkansas. I was ‘nigger.’ But didn’t make no difference—I was down there making good money.”

This evokes another testimony from black Oklahoman baseball player Eugene Golden, according to a thesis of Oklahoma baseball historian Jake Cornwell:

“Golden says that during a road trip in 1947 to Rogers and Siloam Springs, a young boy in Rogers, no more than five or six years old, pointed to Clearview old-timer Whitson Weaver who often traveled with the Rockets. The child tugged on his father’s pant leg and motioned toward Weaver exclaiming, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, that is a old nigger there! He’s older than Abraham Lincoln!”


Want to learn more about Arkansas ties to the Muskogee Hustlers should sign up for my upcoming book, African-American Athletes in Arkansas. I delve into story of Louis McGill, a former Hustler and Fort Smith native, and his ball-playing travels into the bootleggin’ hills of Washington County.

Add your email address here to reserve a copy of this nearly 200-page, one-of-a-kind collectible now.


17 Apr

Just How Good Were Patrick Beverley and Joe Johnson in Game 1?

Heading into this postseason, former Razorback Patrick Beverley had played in 17 playoff games since his first postseason foray with Houston in 2013. On Sunday night, he bested them all with 21-point, 10-rebound, 3-assist, 2-steal masterpiece as the Rockets blasted the Thunder 118-87.

He walked away with an all-time playoff-high 19.4 “game score,” which is a metric stats maven/Grizzlies executive John Hollinger created to roughly measure of a player’s productivity for a single game.

Beverley’s previous two best playoff games came in the first four games of the opening round of the 2013. That series also featured a matchup against the Thunder, and Beverley’s most memorable came on the heels of the unintentional injury he caused to Russell Westbrook:

As you can see in these basketball-reference.com stats below, Beverley had a 17.6 game score in Game 2 of that series, and a 15.2 game score in Game 4. Otherwise, until Sunday night, he’d mostly struggled during the postseason. [The tables below are scrollable. Scroll to the right to see more stats such as game score].




*Game Score, according to basketball-reference.com, is the formula PTS + 0.4 * FG – 0.7 * FGA – 0.4*(FTA – FT) + 0.7 * ORB + 0.3 * DRB + STL + 0.7 * AST + 0.7 * BLK – 0.4 * PF – TOV. The scale is similar to that of points scored, (40 is an outstanding performance, 10 is an average performance, etc.)

Similarly, former Razorback Joe Johnson had experienced a 20-game playoff struggle heading into this weekend. Since the 2014 playoffs, when he detonated against Toronto and Miami, Johnson had put together a string of 20 straight playoff games in which didn’t notch a game score over 14.2. Last year, when he played for the Heat, was especially depressing. The Little Rock native had eight postseason games with eight game score points or less.

That drought came to a halt against the Clippers, though, when Johnson’s 21-point performance on 9 of 14 field goal attempts led to a 20.1 game score and kicked off a weekend of Pro Hog greatness.