Paul Silas is known to most of the basketball world as a Creighton legend, two-time NBA All-Star and a three-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics. He later became a head coach at the NBA level, including with the Cleveland Cavaliers where he became LeBron James’ first pro coach in 2003.
Silas grew up in Prescott, Arkansas, and on Thursday evening I’m going to helm a panel that includes long-time sportswriter Wadie Moore and his Silas’ junior high coach Joe Hale. Hale, still fit and hale at age 92, is something of a walking encyclopedia when it comes to black sports in Arknasas before integration. He is among the living legends like Eddie Boone, Johnny Greenwood and Oliver Elders (who has told me he will also attend) who can provide the current generation (and future generations) with knowledge of a largely unrecorded history.
Here’s more about all three of us and the location, Pyramid Art, Books and Custom Framing.
Arkansas Author Connection
Thursday, November 30, 2017
African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks
& Other Forgotten Stories
About Evin Demirel
A former Latin teacher and Democrat-Gazette reporter, Demirel writes often about the intersection of sports, race relations and regional history. In September, he spoke at the Clinton School of Public Service about sports and the public history gap between African-American and white communities statewide. A father of one, he graduated from Little Rock Central High School and the University of Arkansas.
Wadie Moore, Jr.
Moore, Jr., a 1968 graduate of Horace Mann High School, broke ground as the first black African-American sportswriter at the Arkansas Gazette that same year. He attended Philander Smith College and stayed with the Gazette through 1991. After briefly worked as the editor of the Pine Bluff Commercial, Moore went to the Arkansas Activities Association, where he retired as assistant executive director in 2017. For years he tried to track down records of all-black high schools pre-integration and summon statewide interest in chronicling their heritage.
In 1945, Hale starred as a shooting guard on the Oak Grove High in the Prescott area. His ’45 team played in the National Basketball Tournament for Black Schools in Nashville, Tenn. He then played basketball for AM&N before coaching basketball and football at the McRae High School. Among his players was Paul Silas, who would go on to become a two-time NBA All-Star and the first professional head coach of LeBron James. Hale, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree from AM&N and a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas, became principal of McRae High School in 1958. In later decades, he also served as principal of Lee High School in Marianna and assistant principal at Little Rock Central High.
“Evin Demirel is one of my favorite young sportswriters… He has written for a lot of publications and websites, The New York Times, Deadspin and this newspaper among them. A graceful writer who brings seriousness and an uncommon alertness to history and culture to his work, Demirel’s chief concern is bringing fresh, under-reported stories to light. In the age of the hot take, where self-branding and marketing seem fundamental to the pursuit of any media career, Demirel stands out for his commitment to honest journalism.
So it’s not difficult to recommend his new book… It is, as advertised, a deeply compelling survey of the heretofore neglected history of black athletes in 20th-century Arkansas.”
“Going beyond the title, this book stresses the relationships between Arkansan African Americans and whites alike. Yes, the hook is sports, but the subject matter is wide-ranging, weaving together regional and national historical strands of education, religion, politics, economics and civil rights. I recommend it as a resource for all Arkansas high school (and even middle school) administrators. They should seriously look at it as a learning tool for their students.”
– Dr. John L Colbert, Associate Superintendent for Support Services, Fayetteville Public Schools
“Really well written, informative stories about the Arkansas greats and people who paved the way for my dad, Almer Lee, Martin Terry and others…. It will speak to athletes, coaches and history lovers across the state and region, and should be read by Razorback fans of all backgrounds. But its reach should be wider-it’s national history as well.”
-Fayetteville native Ronnie Brewer, two-time All-SEC Razorbacks basketball player
On October 31 and November 1, Texans will honor and celebrate the legacy of their all black high school sports and activities league with an event at the University of Texas. Why shouldn’t Arkansas do the same?
Yes, Texas has more people than Arkansas. A lot more people. But that doesn’t make its history any more significant. Look at the promotional poster below. It notes the event will involve discussion of the role high school athletics had in the desegregation of Texas society. The exact same dynamic was playing out in the all-black Arkansas State Athletic Association during the same decades. You’ll also notice famous Texas high school alumni such as David Lattin and Joe Washington. Well, Arkansas black sports had the likes of Eddie Miles and civil rights leader Sonny Walker, who in the 1950s reported on black high school sports in Little Rock for Daisy Bates’ newspaper the Arkansas State Press.
We, as Arkansans, should organize such an event as an opportunity to gather surviving coaches and players from this era and learn about their experiences playing in a different era. Oliver Elders, who coached at the all-black Horace Mann High School before he coached Sidney Moncrief at LR Hall, is in his 80s but is still sharp. So is North Little Rock great Eddie Miles, who’s in his 70s. These guys won’t be around forever, though. We need to learn more from them now.
Who would have interest in sponsoring such an event? Possibilities include the UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, the UA’s Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History and maybe the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute (Walker was appointed by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller as the first African-American in the South to hold a cabinet level position)? I could see an event like this being hosted by the Butler Center, Clinton Center, Mosaic Templars or the UA Department of Journalism. I am sure the cause would get good publicity from the likes of the Arkansas Times, Sporting Life Arkansas, ArkansasFight.com, KUAR 89.1 FM and KUAF 91.3 FM.
What’s stopping us from making this happen?
It’s one thing to ignore the records of long-ago all-black prep sports leagues. Some of those numbers still live on microfilm, which will still be around for future generations to peruse. But it’s an entirely different matter to let stories of the leagues’ survivors – the stories that should matter to all Arkansans, white or black – keep going untold. Once we close that door, there’s no opening it again.
I’ve recently been perusing my copy of Sidney Moncrief’s autobiography “Moncrief: My Journey to the NBA.” On the surface, it’s seems pretty standard fare: Chapter One is entitled “Childhood” about Moncrief’s upbringing in southwest and east Little Rock. Then, chapters named “Youth” and “High School” interspersed with pictures of an adult Moncrief mingling with the folks back home. One caption reads “Moncrief and his fellow Razorbacks became role models for many Arkansas youth.”
Another picture shows Moncrief sharing a tender moment with his Little Rock Hall coach Oliver Elders during a post-retirement ceremony at the high school. Clearly, Moncrief is a good guy who appreciates where he came from and the gifts that he has. Andrew Bynum, this is not.
And yet, in the fourth chapter, entitled “College,” things get a little hazy.
It starts on page 51, at the tail end of a paean to Moncrief’s Arkansas coach Eddie Sutton: “Coach Sutton taught us to excel in all walks of life,” Moncrief writes. “He insisted on sportsmanship, ethical behavior, and integrity.”
Except, possibly, when he didn’t.
After leaving Arkansas, Sutton ended up at Kentucky and there was caught up in a messy recruiting scandal that involved $1000 cash mailed to a high profile Kentucky recruit. Sutton and his assistants ultimately resigned and the program was put on probation.
Moncrief writes that this episode saddened him but that Sutton “never hinted at any impropriety with me.” Then he decides to pull the ring on this grenade:
“I can say that during my time in Arkansas I wasn’t offered anything extra. I can’t say that occasionally an alumnus or overzealous fan didn’t walk up to me after a game and put a hundred-dollar bill in my hand when he shook it.”
That’s about $360 in today’s money, folks. The next line insinuates he accepted the money: