“Black and white people do not hate each other, but it is the nature of the two races to oppose each other. When you try to integrate, you have weakened the the races because you have bucked the law of God….”
Ali certainly struck notes far from the conciliatory tone of earlier civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr. when he told the Philander Smith students they were not free and “here you don’t own a thing. You don’t even belong here. You have nothing with which to identify. This country only becomes ‘your country’ at draft time.”
The Arkansas Democrat reported large cheers greeted this statement.
About a month after Ali’s visit, Philander Smith student Robert Edgerson penned an editorial in ThePanthernaut pushing back against the idea of racial separation. The column, excerpted below, provides a good historic lens through which we can learn what “Black Power” meant to at least one socially engaged African-American male in late 1960s Little Rock:
Heading into Game 5 of the NBA Finals, here’s how 28-year-old Kevin Durant’s career statistics stack up against three of the top small forwards of all time:
Career Playoffs Advanced*
PER 24 (26.9 with GS this postseason)
TS% 58.5% (.669 with GS this postseason)
WS/48 .189 (but .275 with GS this postseason)
Advanced Career Playoffs
Advanced Career Playoffs
Julius Erving [includes first 5 seasons (through 1975-76) played in ABA]
Advanced Career Playoffs
While Durant’s time with the loaded Warriors this season has hurt his scoring average, the numbers show above his actual shooting efficiency has skyrocketed. He’s also averaging a career-high in rebounding (8.3 per game) and blocked shots (1.6) while averaging a career-low in turnovers (2.2) per game. And, of course, Kevin Durant is winning at a higher clip than ever before.
“He’s probably going to win a title this week and he’s inordinately happy [according to] everyone who knows him well” NBA analyst Kevin Arnovitz said on Slate’s Hang Up and Listen podcast. “He’s the happiest he’s ever been professionally. He’s a guy who’s one of the best in the world at his craft who hadn’t really had a choice where to work, which firm to work for and under which circumstances. I think we’re going to see more of this—until the league decides we’re not going to have a max salary under the cap structure, so if you want Durant you’re going to have to pay him $80 million out of the $110 million available under the cap, and you’re not going to have room for another guy like that.”
Arnovitz added: “It started with LeBron in 2010. Stars are realizing that their value is driving the league and they want their work situations to be of a certain kind. It wasn’t that Durant wanted to stack the deck,” Arnovitz said. Kevin Durant “wanted it to be an attractive market, he wanted to play with a certain temperament of guy and he found a place to work that he really likes.”
The integration of the NFL followed a jagged path, starting with a trickle in the 1920s, coming to a halt in much of the 1930s through mid 1940s and then slowing building in steam again. By 1963 every team had at least one black player. At that point, however, none of them played quarterback.
This was all the more surprising given not only were black quarterbacks excelling in traditionally black colleges, but they had also led major college programs like Michigan State, Minnesota and UCLA to national renown.
The question of why blacks in the early 1960s hadn’t yet gotten regular playing time at quarterback inspired a series of interviews which ran in Muhammad Speaks, then the name of the periodical produced by the Nation of Islam led by Elijah Muhammad. To tip off the series, a Muhammad Speaks writer spoke to George Halas, the longtime Chicago Bears founder/coach/owner and “O.G.” among NFL patriarchs.
Below is the first part of the interview, which originally published on January 31, 1963*:
“I don’t care what color a man is. I’m interested in winning games,” the Chicago Bears’ George Halas told Muhammad Speaks last week. Halas, whose 1962 Bears finished third in the National Football League western division with a record of nine wins and five losses, said: “I’ll use any man who can best play the position, regardless of his color.”
Whatever political complexities have entered the field to dilute this position on player use, the aging, active Halas would not say. However, so glaring is the discrimination against Negro quarterbacks and so important is this key position to the psyche and status of Negro players—it remains for galvanized fan pressures and a football “Jackie Robinson”** to break the barrier.
“Sandy Stephens (University of Minnesota’s All-American quarterback) was good, admitted Halas, known as “Papa Bear” throughout the sports world. “There’s no doubt in my mind Stephens could have made it. I would have used him myself if he could have beaten out Bill Wade.” (Wade is the first-string quarterback).
Below are my own notes:
*The Bears were then on the cusp of an 11-1 season in 1963, which would be the last NFL championship team Halas coached. Don’t look for glory to be reclaimed in 2017. Most prognosticators have Chicago finishing with a losing record that starts early on: the Bears are a 6.5 underdog to Atlanta in Week 1 according to football lines in major sportsbooks.
** Technically, the NFL’s first black quarterback was Fritz Pollard in the 1920s. He played, however, before an unofficial ban against blacks beginning in 1933. Coincidentally, Kenny Washington, a UCLA football teammate of Jackie Robinson himself, was the first black to play in the NFL post-ban. It had taken Washington seven years to break through in 1946 after not being picked in the 1939 draft, “even though Chicago Bears coach George Halas tried to convince NFL coaches to lift the ban on black players for the Bruin star,” according to this ucla.edu press release.
Here’s a teaser for the film made about Washington and three other pioneering Bruin teammates:
Read Part 2 here. Subscribe to be notified of future interesting historical/sports posts.