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Celebrate Black History at the U PDF Print E-mail
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Written by J. D. Simon   
Friday, 13 February 2009

Imageby J. D. Simon
February, 2009

Notoriously, the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida cancelled a home football game with UCLA in 1940 because UCLA had four blacks on the team: backs Jackie Robinson, All-American and future NFL pro Kenny Washington, future actor and NFL/CFL’er-to-be Woody Strode, and lineman Ray Bartlett were all on this UCLA squad. This was before Jackie Robinson’s Army court-martial and his post-war ground-breaking pro baseball career, but the treatment of the UCLA team by Miami gave the “liberal, East-coast” media a chance to showcase institutionalized racism in America’s Deep South at a time when, in total, maybe a few dozen blacks played College Football outside of traditionally black colleges. Although Miami is now an international city with a Metropolitan Statistical Area Population of 4.5 million, it was still considered part of the “Deep South” in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Blacks were not welcome at the University of Miami from its founding in 1925 through the early 1960’s, and, on the field and in the arena, until the late 1960’s.

Until 1938, when the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the Constitution as requiring professional schools, specifically the University of Missouri Law School, to accept qualified black student/plaintiff Lloyd Lionel Gaines, southern States arranged for their resident African-Americans go to out-of-state black law schools as “in-state” applicants. Shortly later, the University of Tennessee was forced to accept black grad students under this same concept, as “separate but equal” began breaking down long before Brown v. Board of Education in the mid-1950’s.

In 1946, Miami refused to play Penn State in football because blacks played for the Nittany Lions. While Miami resisted integrating their Coral Gables campus, the Hurricanes did eventually play the University of Iowa in 1950 at a home game in the Orange Bowl, which was the first time a college football team with black players, Iowa, had ever played a game in the Deep South. The Orange Bowl Classic was integrated in 1955 when Big-Seven champ Nebraska, with black players, was invited to Miami after the 1954 season to play all-white ACC Champ Duke. Duke stomped Nebraska 34-7. UM was on probation from 1954 to 1956 and could not attend any bowl games during this time. Beginning in the late 1950’s, the City of Miami, under pressure from UM, allowed general, not just segregated, seating at the Orange Bowl.

Better known to the average football fan is the fact that the late (Dr.) Prentice Gautt (RB) broke the color line at Oklahoma for schools South of the Mason-Dixon Line as an eligible freshman in 1956, and that Jim Brown (FB) and his Syracuse squad played in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas after the ‘56 season. However, Abner Haynes (RB at North Texas State) and Leford Fant (WR, albeit briefly, at Texas Western, now UTEP) became the first black football players at state schools in Texas in the late 1950’s, but these programs were not considered majors.

By the 1960’s, students James Meredith at Ole Miss; Charlayne Hunter-Gault (of PBS and NPR fame) and (Dr.) Hamilton E. Holmes at Georgia; Vivian Juanita Malone Jones and James Hood at Alabama all had crossed the color line at those respective State southern colleges. However, the court rulings involving equal protection had not been expanded enough by the U.S. Courts at this time to force such compliance at private schools like the University of Miami. Finally, on January 31, 1961, the University’s Board of Trustees voted to admit Negro students to the University of Miami.

By 1963, Miami President Dr. Henry King Stanford was anxious to specifically land a black football recruit. Under direct instructions from Dr. Stanford, lame-duck Head Coach Andy Gustafson courted, but didn’t ultimately sign, Miami-native Cyril Pinder (RB), who went on to star at Illinois and in the NFL. Also in 1963, Darryl Hill (WR) broke the color line at the University of Maryland, becoming the first black football player in the ACC; Hill had transferred from the Navel Academy, where he was also the first black football player at Annapolis. Although Clemson and South Carolina threatened to flee the ACC (SoCar shades of succession redux?) at the time, both schools ended up accepting the situation at Maryland.

By the end of the 1967 season, Warren McVie (RB at Univ. of Houston), Jerry LeVias (WR at SMU), the late John Hill Westbrook (RB at Baylor), and Nat Northington (WR at Kentucky) had all already been the 1st black players playing for their schools, as well as being the 1st African-Americans in either the SWC or the SEC, respectively. Sadly, Greg Page (DE, also a black Kentucky soph player along with Nat Northington) had been paralyzed by a hit at a team practice in August, 1967 and died 38 days later without ever playing in a varsity game. Kentucky had recruited this pair of black players in 1966 to try to lessen the isolation of many of the color-line pioneers mentioned above. Too upset to continue playing after his friend’s demise, Page’s roommate and close friend, Nat Northington quit the team after appearing in only four UK games in 1967. Nat Northington has reportedly never granted an interview about the subject since. Afro-Americans Wilbur Hackett (later an All-SEC LB and Kentucky co-Captain) and Houston Hogg, who were both freshmen and were not eligible to play varsity in those days, were also in Lexington in 1967 when this all happened; they went on to play for the Wildcats in 1968.

By the time the University of Miami’s first black athletes, Ray Bellamy (WR 6’5” 215 from Lincoln High in Palmetto, Florida) in Football and Willie Allen (Power Forward, 6’6” 230) in Basketball, played their first games as sophomores at the U in 1968, Miami had been accepting black students for over seven years. Both grew up in agriculture. Bellamy was the son of a migrant picker, while Allen grew up on a vegetable farm near Washington, D.C. From a historical prospective, if one considers Oklahoma, Maryland, Kentucky and Texas as not truly being in the “Deep South,” then Miami, with Ray Bellamy, did integrate “Southern” football during the 1968 season – although admittedly at the same time as the University of Tennessee’s football team with WR Lester McClain.

Tennessee had also wanted to go after a pair of black players to integrate their program in the same way Kentucky had the year before, but prospect Albert (Sonny) Davis (RB) from Alcoa High in Alcoa, Tennessee had an academic-related admissions problem, and ended up enrolling at traditionally-black Tennessee State instead of the University of Tennessee. However, the Vols did follow through in signing Les McClain, who went on to be drafted #9 by the Chicago Bears in 1971 after his college career ended. Of note, Sonny Davis also ended up playing in the NFL with the Eagles. By the 1970’s, all of the other SEC, ACC and SWC schools along with BYU had caved in and signed black athletes.

At Miami, Ray Bellamy and Willie Allen certainly faced significant racial bigotry in becoming the first blacks on the football field and basketball court for the U. The late Tom (Silky) Sullivan from Jacksonville arrived as a freshman in 1968 as Miami’s second black football player, one year after Bellamy, with Afro-Americans Chuck Foreman (from Frederick High School in Frederick, Maryland) and Burgess Owens (from Rickards High School in Tallahassee) following a year after that in 1969. Compounding the racial issue was the fact that only 18 natives of Florida were part of the Hurricane football program in 1968, including Bellamy and Sullivan.

Although Miami officials had interviewed Bob Devaney (who used the opportunity to renegotiate with Nebraska, increasing his pay and benefits); Hank Stram, former Offensive Coordinator at UM (who got a new 5-year contract to remain with the Chiefs); and Ara Parseghian (at Northwestern, who took the Notre Dame job instead on going to Miami), local Miami High Coaching legend Charlie Tate ended up being offered the Head Coaching position at Miami when Andy Gustafson resigned to attend exclusively to his duties as AD after the 1963 season. Miami High School had been the dominant local high-school program in Dade County for decades.

While stars for UM like Jim Dooley, Fran Cursi and Ted Hendricks all had gone to high school in the Miami area and George Mira was from Key West in extreme South Florida, Miami had also recruited strongly in the Northeast, Midwest and the original football hotbed of western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. However, now when two out of only eighteen Florida-reared players on the Cane squad were black, this fact emphasized what many local high school coaches had been saying - that Coach Tate didn’t really appreciate local-grown football talent, especially Florida kids who also happened to be white.

Among the hate mail directed at Coach Tate and Ray Bellamy was one letter promising “4 years in Hell” that was signed by an outfit calling themselves Patriotism Inc. An example of how institutionalized the racism was in the South at the time: while a passenger in a convertible driven by a white University of Miami co-ed, Ray Bellamy was forcibly removed from the car by a Miami cop during a routine traffic stop. The crime: caught being black while alone in a car with a white girl. After a call from Ray, the University’s President, Dr. Henry King Stanford, responded personally, driving to the scene to make sure Ray didn’t end up in jail - or possibly badly beaten given the times. Later in 1968, when UM went to play Auburn; a death threat to Bellamy required a police guard had to be stationed at his motel room door. Ray responded with an 8-catch, 121-yard game, in a season where he had 37 total receptions.

However, Ray Bellamy had the misfortune of debuting in 1968 right after one of the greatest classes of receivers ever at UM had just graduated (at least in quantity - no offense meant to Michael Irvin or other Cane superstar receivers and their respective classes – but the reader will get the point). UM’s WR and All-American candidate Jim Cox (2-time receiving leader in ’66-’67 and later a TE with the Minnesota Vikings after being drafted in the 2nd round, 56th overall), WR Jerry Daanan (who led UM in receiving in ’65, who later had multiple seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals), WR/TE Steve Smith (taken #7 by the Bengals) and WB/RB Joe Mira (George Mira’s brother; also drafted by Cincy) were all drafted in the NFL in 1968, plus 3-yr. lettermen WR Jack Russo and TE Larry LaPointe (selected to the All-American Blocking Team at TE in 1967) also graduated in 1968. Furthermore, WR Dave Kalina (twice top receiver:’68-’69, later with the Steelers), WR Joe Schmidt (also KR, who led UM in catches in ‘70 and was drafted by the LA Rams) and 3-time letterman WR Van Golmont all remained on the roster, playing with Bellamy in ‘68-‘69. Obviously, all nine of these receivers are white. As such, UM Head Coach Charlie Tate took a lot of grief for giving a black, Ray Bellamy, substantial playing time as a receiver in 1968 and again in 1969 when Kalina, Schmidt and Golmont were all available as wide-outs.

Arising as a militant response to American racism demanding rights for American blacks at the barrel of a Constitutionally-protected gun, the Black Panthers Party was also looming nationally as well as locally in Miami in these years. The first peaceful anti-war sit-down strike at UM had dated back to the Spring of 1968, but a strident anti-war atmosphere was further heated up after Kent State/Jackson State in the Spring of 1970. In this atmosphere, a local Miami black activist named Al Featherstone rallied other “outside agitators” and a handful of militantly anti-war students in an attempt to take over the University of Miami ROTC office to seize military weapons to “start a revolution.” The effort ended in failure, and charges involving bomb-making and other serious crimes were instituted against the participants. To say times were tense understates the situation. Interestingly, Lt. Col. Arnold Tucker (Cane QB in 1943 before transferring to Army and on to the College Football Hall of Fame with Army teammates Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis) returned to UM in 1971 from active duty in Southeast Asia, taking over as Commanding Officer of the University’s Army ROTC program. As C.O., Tucker stabilized the troubled UM ROTC program and remained in that position until 1974.

In the spring of 1970, Coach Tate also welcomed two disgruntled transfers: star QB Larry Lawrence (later with the Raiders and Bucs, plus three years in the CFL) and his friend FB Tom Smith from the University of Iowa, which had just gone through a black players’ walkout in 1969 that included then Iowa-player, Denny Green. Of the sixteen black Hawkeye players taking part in the “1969 Black Boycott,” future NFL coach Denny Green was one of only two players that were allowed to return to the Iowa football team. Larry Lawrence’s Grandfather was Iowa’s Freshman Team Coach who sided with Iowa A.D., Forest (Evy) Evashevski, in the internal power struggle (the so-called “Evy-Nagel feud”) with Iowa Head Coach Ray Nagel that involved reaction to the black players’ strike, among other things like Evashevski trying to regain his old Head Coaching position and “padded expense accounts” requiring an investigation by the Iowa Attorney General. Larry Lawrence’s non-football-playing roommate was a central witness against Evashevski for the University of Iowa in this whole mess that ended up with Iowa coaching legend’s Forest Evashevski’s premature retirement from football at age 42.

Transferring from Iowa in disgust in January, 1970, Larry Lawrence went on to participate in Miami’s Spring Football Practice in 1970, but then left UM to sign with Calgary in the CFL before the 1970 season arrived rather than sit out the ’70 season as his transfer year, and then complete with QB Kelly Cochrane in ’71 with his final year of NCAA eligibility. As such, Coach Tate faced additional criticism for wasting a scholarship on Lawrence, who in only two seasons at Iowa put up passing numbers that still rate #8 all-time at the University of Iowa. Nevertheless, on the official NFL player archives website, Lawrence’s college is listed as “Miami (Florida)” – not Iowa – despite never having played a down for the Canes, vividly showing Larry’s contempt for the Hawkeyes. However, Tom Smith stayed at UM and sat out 1970 as a redshirt transfer, but played for the Canes in the ‘71 and ‘72 seasons.

The black-favoritism backlash Coach Tate was facing was compounded when RB Tom Sullivan could only generate 2.7 yards in gaining 461 yards to lead the Canes in rushing in 1970, and Ray Bellamy could not return to form after a serious auto accident. To appease some of his critics, Tate used Chuck Foreman primarily as a DB (along with fellow soph CB Burgess Owens, also black), so as not to rile the white fans too much. Finally, after threats were directed at his family over the racial situation at UM, Charlie Tate quit as Coach and AD two games into the 1970 season (going 1-1), and former Cane-great, Walt Kichefski (who had played in the NFL with the Steelers and the merged Steelers/Cardinals in the 1940’s), took over as Head Coach and went 2-7 over the rest of the year.

Ray Bellamy didn’t even receive a varsity letter in Football in 1970 due to the lingering affects from the car wreck. However, Ray Bellamy, the son of an illiterate migrant produce picker from a large family in Palmetto, Florida, was elected Miami’s first black Student Body President as a senior that year. Bellamy went on to become a college football Assistant Coach at Fort Valley State in Georgia, and is currently in an administrative position at Florida A&M.

In 1972, with promises of improvements to the program, Fran (the Little General) Cursi was hired away from the University of Tampa to serve as the U’s new Head Coach replacing interim Coach Walt Kichefski. Just two weeks later, Miami’s Athletic Department decided to terminate Men’s Basketball after the 1970-71 season, Willie Allen’s senior year. Replacing interim coach Walt Kichefski was Fran Cursi. Cursi had been an Assistant Coach at Miami after his pro football career ended and his military draft commitment had been served, but had moved on to become Head Coach at the University of Tampa. As a UM player back in 1957, Fran Cursi, then a 5’9” 155 pound lefty sophomore, was given the starting job at QB, and went on to lead the Canes in passing that year. Cursi later went on to become the U’s first All-American QB in ’59 and Miami’s only football Academic All-American, except for Bernie Kosar. Cursi was the first 1,000 yardage season passer in Hurricane history in his senior season when he threw 14 TD’s, shattering the shared Miami record of 9 TD passes in a season, then co-held by QB’s Jack Del Bello and Don James. Playing both ways at DB as well as QB, the undersized Cursi also led the Canes in picks one year; he also punted, returned punts, and did the placekicking while at the U. In the AFL, Fran was a third-string QB and erstwhile Flankerback with the Dallas Texans.

After dropping Men’s Basketball, Miami’s athletic department also slashed Coach Fran Cursi’s recruiting budget and promised improvements to the training facilities were postponed. After a college career that left him as one of UM”s all-time rebounders and scorers, Willie Allen went on to play pro ball locally in Miami with the ABA’s Floridians and also played professionally abroad. Allen, now going by Will Allen, currently serves as director of “Growing Power,” a Milwaukee-based environmental and poverty activist group. His work in advocating sustainable, small-scale agriculture and urban farming resulted in his being was awarded a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" in 2008. Amazingly, by providing goats to people in hard-hit areas of the world like Somalia, Chad and Darfur where herdsmen traditionally operated, Will Allen has drawn the ire of PETA and the “overgrazing/animal methane is ruining the world” crowd.

Despite the broken promises from UM, Coach Cursi moved forward. He firmly believed if you have big guns, you shoot them without worrying about any race issues. As such, he proceeded to utilize senior Tom Sullivan and junior Chuck Foreman in multiple ways as ball carriers, receivers, and return men in ‘71. The result was the 7th (Foreman, 1467 total yds.) and 9th (Sullivan, 1361 yds.) all-time total yardage performances in the very same year - still in the UM record books to this day, with McGahee, O.J. Anderson, S.Moss, E.James, Portis & Chuck Foreman a second time, having the other top-10 all-purpose yardage seasons.

Chuck Foreman
Chuck Foreman
The tandem of Tom Sullivan and Chuck Foreman certainly made the Canes exciting again in 1971. However, despite additional weapons QB Kelly Cochrane (later with the Houston Oilers), FB Tom Smith (later with the Dolphins) and WR Witt Beckman (who played with World Football League Jacksonville Express, one of three of Express QB George Mira’s receivers that ranked in the top ten in receiving the 1975, the final year of the WFL’s 2-year existence), the Canes still only went 4-7 for the ’71 season. Still, only racist fools could now deny that Tom Sullivan (seven years in the NFL and the best running back the Eagles had in between Steve Van Buren in the early 1950’s and Wilbert Montgomery in the late 1970’s), Chuck Foreman (nine years in the NFL, 5-time All-Pro before knee injuries cut his career short), and Burgess Owens (10 years in the NFL) could play the game.

In Coach Cursi’s second and final year at Miami in 1972, and with sophomore T All-American-to-be Dennis Harrah (7-time All-Pro in 13 years with the L.A. Rams) joining the offensive line, Chuck Foreman’s total yardage went up to 1555 total yards (5th best all-time at UM), and the Canes improved to 5-6 for ‘72. Fran Cursi also recruited MG/DT Rubin Carter, the U’s next black All-American and later an All-Pro with the Denver Broncos and Head Coach at Florida A&M, to help insure that there was no backsliding on race in the University of Miami Football Program. Fran Cursi did not leave the U under the best of circumstances when he went on to coach at the University of Kentucky, but he deserves credit for having the courage of his convictions in his treatment and productive use of black players at Miami.

In the pros, Tom Sullivan put up 155 rushing yards against Buffalo, the best performance by an Eagle since Timmy Brown’s 180 yards in 1965, and the Bills’ O.J. Simpson inquired about Sullivan: “Who’s that number 25? He sure can dance.” The undersized Sullivan (6’0” 190) had interests in meditation and fine art and had a reputation for going his own way. As a 15th round pick (378th overall!), Tom left Eagles training camp to go camping and fishing, saying, “I just needed to think things over.” He came back a week later and, incredibly, made the team anyway. After spending the ’72 season mostly as a special teams player, he immediately impressed new Eagles Head Coach Mike McCormick in camp in 1973. Coach McCormick gave Tom Sullivan the nickname “Silky” to go with his new starting job at tailback. Sullivan responded with three 100-yard games during the 14-game ’73 season on a team that had not had a 100-yard game from a runner in four years. A tip of the hat to the book The Eagles Encyclopedia for all of the above great material about Tom Sullivan. After retirement from the NFL, Tom Sullivan was working in management with the K-Mart Corporation as a security specialist before his untimely death in an auto accident in Florida on October 10, 2004.

Clarence Burgess Owens was born in Columbus, Ohio, (home of The Ohio State University), but graduated form High School in Tallahassee, Florida in the still-segregated South of the late 1960’s. Tallahassee is home of Florida State University (FSU’s team was obviously segregated during Owens’ time in high school there) as well as the historically black school, Florida A&M. Burgess Owens is a family man with six children and is currently active in the Church of Latter Day Saints.

Walter E. (Chuck) Foreman is now a substitute teacher at Bloomington Kennedy High School in Bloomington, Minnesota. Foreman’s LB son, Jay, played in the NFL from 1999-2006 after attending the University of Nebraska. Chuck Foreman was a ground-breaking running back in terms of the development of both the West-coast, short-pass offense and the use of a back as a downfield receiver - as well as being a great, pure runner for five splendid seasons before injuries started taking their toll. Chuck Foreman was all about touches and touchdowns, and he deserves more consideration in Pro Football Hall-of-Fame discussions than he seems to receive.

Last Updated ( Monday, 16 February 2009 )
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