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Featherston On The ACC And Integration

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I’ve always been amazed at how many North Carolina fans think Charlie Scott broke the color line in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

In a way, their distorted memory is understandable. Scott was not only the ACC’s first great African-American player, but was also the focus of the racists’ resistance to the integration of ACC basketball. It was almost as if the bigots could accept the marginal black players who preceded Scott. Unlike baseball’s Jackie Robinson, who was a star almost from the beginning, the ACC’s first African-American players clearly were outclassed by the league’s white standouts. It was only when Scott arrived two years after the color line was first broken that the racists saw a black man good enough to explode their delusions of white superiority.

Scott’s arrival was so spectacular and so controversial that it’s not surprising that he would overshadow the ACC’s true racial trailblazer – Maryland’s Billy Jones, who became the league’s first African-American player when he made his debut with the Terps exactly 40 years ago this season. In fact, 1966 was a watershed year for college basketball, featuring what’s come to be viewed as the most significant national championship game in history.

That Kentucky-Texas Western game
is the subject of a new Jerry Bruckheimer movie, “Glory Road,” which will open nationally in the next few days. It will be interesting to see how the film treats the myths and misinformation that have become such a part of the story. It will also be interesting to see if Duke, which narrowly missed taking Kentucky’s place in that historic game, is given any mention at all.

Who knows what Hollywood will do with the story? But the real events – the events leading up to the Kentucky-Texas Western game and the events leading to the integration of the ACC – are fascinating enough. And, appropriately, they came together in Cole Field House, where Billy Jones, at that time the only black player in the ACC, sat seven rows behind the Kentucky bench and watched Texas Western’s five black starters defeat Kentucky’s five white starters.

I recently did an interview with Jones, who is now an executive with the Disney corporation, and what struck both of us was how recently this all happened. This isn’t ancient history. Most of the principals are still alive. There’s no excuse for getting the story wrong – as so many have done.

So let’s get it right.


I assume that everybody with enough interest to read this far knows that for the first sixty years of the 20th Century, black athletes were not allowed to compete against white athletes in the South. Before World War II, there weren’t even that many black athletes at non-Southern universities – a rare Jesse Owens at Ohio State or Paul Robeson at Rutgers or Jackie Robinson at UCLA.

According to Barry Jacobs, who has written a
soon-to-be-published book about the integration of Southern basketball teams, the first integrated game at Duke Indoor Stadium (not yet re-named for Eddie Cameron), was a 1951 victory over Temple. While the Tobacco Road schools remained segregated throughout the 1950s, there was a less stringent approach than that adopted by the schools of the Deep South. Many SEC schools refused to play integrated teams, either home or away.

That wasn’t the case in the ACC. Everett Case brought in some of basketball’s brightest black stars for his Dixie Classic, including Cincinnati’s Oscar Robertson and Michigan State’s ‘Jumpin’ Johnny Green. N.C. State played St. John’s, which featured black star Solly Walker, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Reynolds Coliseum in 1952. North Carolina’s march to the 1957 NCAA title included three straight wins over teams that featured black stars – Syracuse (Vinnie Cohen was Jim Brown’s roommate), Michigan State (Johnny Green) and Kansas (Wilt Chamberlain).

By contrast, at Mississippi State, the Bulldogs not only refused to play against blacks at home, but also refused to go on the road to play integrated teams. Coach Babe McCarthy won two SEC titles during that era and both times Mississippi State officials turned down the chance to play in the NCAA Tournament because it would have meant playing integrated teams.

When McCarthy’s Bulldogs won the SEC for a third time in 1963, he snuck his team out of Starkville to avoid a sheriff with a court order forbidding his team to play in the NCAA Tournament. Mississippi State ended up losing to the same Loyola of Chicago team that beat Duke in the NCAA semifinals and then upset two-time defending champ Cincinnati in the championship game.

In view of the myth that the 1966 Texas Western victory somehow “proved” that blacks could play, it’s worth noting that in 1963, Loyola won with four black starters – beating a Cincinnati team that started three blacks.

In truth, the knowledge that blacks could indeed play the game was already widespread in the mid-1950s, at the very latest when Russell – ably supported by black teammates K.C. Jones, Hal Perry, Gene Brown and Warren Baxter -- led San Francisco to back-to-back NCAA titles. There’s an interesting quote from the 1957 Final Four that suggests just how widespread the appreciation for black talent had become. Coach Ken Loeffler, who had seen his dreams of winning back-to-back NCAA titles at LaSalle dashed in the 1955 title game by Russell and company, was quoted as suggesting a new rule to limit the growing domination by African-Americans: “We just put in a rule that baskets by white players count two points and baskets by Negroes count one point,” Loeffler suggested.

His plan was a [bad] joke, but that doesn’t mean the racists didn’t have other equally ludicrous schemes for keeping sports all-white. The same year that Loeffler was joking about changing the rules, state senator Leon Butts introduced a bill in the Georgia legislature that would have forbidden any interracial athletic competition in the state. I’ve always thought his explanation for his action was significant:

“When Negroes and whites meet on the athletic fields on a basis of complete equality, it is only natural that this sense of equality carries over into the daily living of these people,” he told reporters.

Wow! If there’s ever been a more telling testament to the power of sports to impact the real world, then I’ve never heard it. Of course, the demonstration of equality on the athletic field equates to equality in all phases of life!

Butts’ perception raises an interesting question – was the integration of Southern athletics ahead or behind the curve of the integration of Southern society as a whole?


The pressure to integrate came slowly in the ACC.

N.C. State coach Everett Case, who was never one to let an NCAA rule get in his way of acquiring talent, respected the unwritten rule against recruiting black players. He once claimed that he tried to recruit Philadelphia phenom Wilt Chamberlain in the mid 1950s, but there’s no evidence that he was serious. He made no recorded effort to recruit such homegrown black stars as Sam Jones, Al Attles or Walt Bellamy.

At North Carolina, Frank McGuire presents an interesting case and provides an interesting counterpoint to the debates about Adolph Rupp’s alleged racism. When McGuire was at St. John’s, he coached Solly Walker, a black star who led the Redmen to the 1952 national title game (when St. John’s lost to a Kansas team with a scrub of a guard named Dean Smith).

When McGuire took the North Carolina job in the spring of 1952, he inherited an all-white Tar Heel team which was very short on talent. McGuire used his connections in New York to stock his team with talented players – yet in nine seasons in Chapel Hill, he never recruited a black player. After a brief hiatus in the NBA, McGuire returned to the ACC and coached South Carolina for that team’s final seven years in the league. He didn’t recruit a black player in Columbia until a year after Rupp signed Tommy Payne, his first black player.

Was McGuire racist (as Rupp is so often accused of being for not recruiting blacks)? Maybe his New York recruiting grounds didn’t turn out a qualified black prospect in those two decades years (yeah,
right!) Or maybe he was just bowing to the same unwritten rule that prevented Duke, N.C. State, Wake Forest, Maryland and every other school in the South from signing black players during this period.

In truth, nobody in the ACC (or SEC or Southwest Conference) was recruiting black athletes in the 1950s and into the early 1960s. There’s some evidence that young coach Dean Smith, who replaced Frank McGuire at UNC after the 1961 season, tried to break the color line early in the 1960s. Smith claims in his autobiography that he tried very hard to land Greensboro Dudley guard Lou Hudson in the fall of 1962, but failed when the future NBA all-star barely missed getting the required 800 SAT score.

At least that’s Smith’s version of events. In a 1996 interview with Greensboro’s Larry Keech, Hudson didn’t mention UNC as one of the schools that recruited him:

“The only ACC school that showed any interest in me was N.C. State,” Hudson told Keech. “They invited me to a game against Villanova in the Greensboro Coliseum. Villanova had a black player named Hubie White, and he drew jeers from the crowd. I never actually met Everett Case, but it was suggested that if I enrolled as a student, the booster club would cover my expenses. It seemed to me like a chicken way to operate. They obviously were covering their backs. Times were beginning to change, but I came along a couple of years too early. They weren't ready for me, and I wasn't ready to be a pioneer under those conditions.”

But if Smith’s pursuit of Hudson is questionable, he did bring in William Cooper, a black player from Elm City, N.C. two years later. Cooper, the father of future UNC basketball player Tonya Cooper(a member of UNC’s women’s national championship team in 1994), was a “recruited walk-on” who played freshman basketball for the Tar Heels during the 1964-65 season. The next fall, he was poised to join Maryland’s Jones as the ACC’s first black player. But Cooper, a serious student who was pursuing a business degree, found himself struggling in the classroom and quit the UNC team after a week of practice in order to concentrate on his studies. He never played a varsity game at

That left the honor of breaking the color line to Maryland’s Jones, a 6-3 guard from Towson, Md.

The plan was for Jones to share the burden with classmate Pete Johnson, a 6-0 guard from Washington, D.C. They were recruited by Maryland coach Bud Milliken to help each other overcome the inevitable hurdles that would confront the first black players in a league that was at that time entirely below the Mason-Dixon Line.

“We were roommates,” Jones said. “I always thought we’d experience everything together. And we did share it as freshmen, going to play in places like Virginia and West Virginia.”

But Johnson was redshirted in 1965-66 after encountering academic difficulties. That forced Jones to break the ACC color line alone. It didn’t help that he was forced to play out of position (a natural guard, Milliken used him as a small forward). It got even tougher when Jones sprained his ankle during warm-up drills at Duke – an injury that would plague him the rest of his sophomore season. He wound up averaging a mere 2.8 points and 2.0 rebounds in 16 games.

Jones doesn’t recall encountering much trouble because of his race.

“There was probably a lot more going on that I wasn’t aware of,” he said. “You know how it is, you’re traveling as part of the team and your kind on insulated from everything outside of you.”

He was able to block out most of the taunts from the hostile crowds. But he does remember one particular fan at South Carolina.

“I went into the stands after a loose ball and this middle-aged guy just stood up in my face and called me a ‘nigger’,” Jones said. “I was not annoyed that he said it, but by the ease with which he said it, like it was the most natural and acceptable thing in the world.”

Jones, after his frustrating sophomore season, developed into a solid player as a junior in 1966-67, averaging 11.6 points and 5.0 rebounds a game. Johnson, finally eligible that season, scored 13.1 points a game. Senior Gary Williams, the third guard in Milliken’s three-guard alignment, averaged 6.9 points as the Terps finished 11-14.

Jones and Johnson were joined in the ACC that season by the first black player to play on Tobacco Road – Duke’s C.B. Claiborne. A slender 6-2 guard from Danville, Va., Claiborne had been planning to attend all-black North Carolina A&T University when his combination of basketball talent and – most importantly – excellent grades made him a major target for a number of schools hoping to integrate their rosters.

In hindsight, it’s hard to say with any certainty just how big the academic hurdle was for a number of black prospects targeted by the ACC. Whether Smith’s Hudson story is true or not, Billy Packer, then an assistant coach at Wake Forest, told writer Joe Menzer that he tried very hard to land Winston-Salem guard Herm Gilliam, who signed with Purdue (and returned to haunt UNC in the 1969 Final Four) after he failed to score 800 on the SAT. Henry Bibby, who spewed his bitterness at the Big Four schools at an NCAA press conference in 2001, was another prospect made untouchable by the ACC’s strict academic standards.

The ACC’s 800 rule was clearly a barrier to integration of the league – especially in an era when most Southern school systems were still segregated (or only tokenly integrated) and the black schools were denied the resources of the white school systems. The question is whether the league intentionally put the rule in place to bar black athletes?

Although some critics have argued that point, that’s a hard case to make. Barry Jacobs, who wrote the definitive history of the ACC, has seen the correspondence and the minutes of the league meetings leading up to the adoption of the rule and Barry claims he can find no evidence of any racist intent. It’s his judgment that at the time the rule was adopted in 1953, nobody even considered the possibility of integration.

Whatever the truth, Claiborne was prized because he did meet the ACC’s tough academic standards. Vic Bubas, who at the time still ruled the ACC, beat out Wake Forest for the Danville star in the spring of 1965.

“I wasn't hell-bent to be a pioneer in ACC basketball,” Claiborne told Keech in 1996. “Deep down, I still probably would have preferred to play at [North Carolina] A & T. But that would have been a selfish decision on my part. Going to a school with Duke's academic reputation and playing in the ACC were the kinds of opportunities that raised the expectations of the [black] community in a small town like Danville.”

Unfortunately, Claiborne endured some of the same frustrations that spoiled Jones’ debut season. Early in preseason practice before his sophomore season (1966-67), Claiborne suffered a groin injury that would plague him all season. He appeared in just 12 games and averaged a mere 1.7 points a game.

So that was the situation going into the 1967-68 season. The ACC had three black veterans – Jones was entering his senior year at Maryland; Johnson at Maryland and Claiborne at Duke were juniors. Wake Forest was about to debut sophomore Norwood Todmann, a guard from New York who had played prep basketball at Power Memorial with the celebrated Lew

But even though Todmann played well, averaging over 13 points a game as a sophomore, his debut was overshadowed by the arrival of Charlie Scott at North Carolina.


You have to understand, Scott was a celebrated – and controversial figure – even before he wound up in Chapel Hill.

Originally, the New York native was slated to attend Davidson and play for Lefty Driesell’s powerhouse program. Everything was set when a racial incident made Scott re-think his choice.

There are many versions of the story about Scott being refused service at a Davidson restaurant. The version Scott told me many years ago is that when Driesell took the black prospect to the establishment during his official visit, everything went well and Scott was treated like any other patron. However, when Scott returned to the same restaurant on an unofficial visit along with Frank McDuffie, his coach at Laurinburg Institute (an all-black prep school near the North Carolina/South Carolina border) and McDuffie’s wife, the all-black party was denied service.

Scott let McDuffie know that he was interested in looking at other collegiate options. One of the first coaches McDuffie called was Bubas at Duke. And Bubas, impressed by Scott’s strong academic status, was very interested in pursuing the Laurinburg standout.

Dean Smith, who was on the verge of his big breakthrough at UNC, claims he first heard of Charlie Scott from Tar Heel broadcaster Bill Currie while returning from a loss at Virginia.

When Smith learned that Scott was academically qualified, he sent assistant coach John Lotz to check him out. At the same time, he sent assistant Larry Brown to look at Indiana prep sensation Rick Mount. When the two coaches returned, they got into an argument as to which was the better prospect. When Brown finally saw Scott, he called Lotz and apologized – agreeing that Scott was the superior talent.

UNC was a late starter in the Scott sweepstakes. West Virginia, which had just broken the Southern Conference color barrier under former Bubas assistant
Bucky Waters, was also a viable candidate, while Princeton and Columbia (both national powers at that time) were attractive options for the academically gifted prospect.

A couple of significant things happened that gave Smith the edge in the recruitment of Scott. The first was during his official recruiting visit to Chapel Hill, when Scott slipped away from host Dick Grubar and toured Chapel Hill on his own. He later explained that he knew he would be treated well while accompanied by a UNC player or coach – he wanted to see how he would be treated as a solo black teenager in Chapel Hill.

As it turned out, he was treated well. Maybe more important was a simple question from Smith. He asked the young prospect what he wanted to be called. To everybody else on the planet, Scott was universally known as Charlie.

“That was never my name,” said Scott, impressed that the young Tar Heel coach would have the simple courtesy to ask the question.

Hard as it is to believe today, Smith’s insistence on calling his young star “Charles” infuriated opposing fans. It was a flashpoint for the racism that lingered beneath the placid surface of ACC basketball. Everything about Scott seemed to rub the racists wrong. He was well-spoken and intelligent (becoming an academic All-American in 1970) and he behaved with the same uncompromising dignity that made Bill Russell such a lightning rod for white anger in Boston.

Scott couldn’t even silence his critics after he represented the United States at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City and helped the United States – supposedly vulnerable after the refusal of most top college players to participate – claim the Gold Medal without a loss. The American team was battered around during a pre-Olympic tour of Europe and was projected as an underdog against the Russians or the Yugoslavs. But Scott, Kansas guard Jo-Jo White and unknown junior college big man Spencer Haywood led the mostly unheralded team to the gold medal game and to a tenuous one-point halftime lead over the favorite Yugoslavians. The U.S. unbeaten streak in Olympic play seemed very much in jeopardy as the second half opened with the anti-American crowd in Mexico City screaming for an upset.

Instead, the U.S. opened the half in a full-court press and with Scott and White leading the way, the Americans absolutely destroyed their favored opponents, reeling off 17 straight points in one of the most scintillating displays of basketball I personally have ever witnessed. By the time the run was over, even the Mexican crowd was cheering in appreciation for what they had seen.

But even returning home with the gold medal around his neck didn’t end the controversy surrounding Scott on Tobacco Road. He continued to be a target of abuse from both racists who hated the color of his skin and the ABC (Anybody But Carolina) brigade, who hated the color of his uniform.

That racism exploded in the spring of 1969 – just days after Scott had beaten Duke in the ACC Tournament title game with the greatest single-game performance in tourney history. UNC was down 43-34 at halftime in that game and everything seemed to be going Duke’s way. Grubar, UNC’s starting point guard, was carried off the court after suffering a knee injury that would end his career. Both starting center Rusty Clark and All-ACC forward Bill Bunting were in serious foul trouble.

When Duke scored the first basket of the second half to go up 11, Bubas said that for a moment, he thought victory was in his grasp.

Then he saw Charles Scott.

“I looked down at the Carolina bench and I felt like everybody except Charlie Scott looked like the thing was over,” Bubas said. “He was yelling, ‘Give the ball to me ... I’ll win the game.’ I’m afraid that’s what happened. But when a guy hits 30-foot jump shots, going to his left, falling in the crowd, all you can say is ‘nice going’.”

One writer described UNC’s slim junior as “a leaping, whirling, twisting ball of fire.”

Scott, who had scored 12 first-half points, hit 13 of 14 shots in the second half – many from long range. His 28 second-half points – 40 for the game – propelled the Tar Heels into the lead with five minutes left. Then he triggered the Four Corners down the stretch as UNC pulled away for an 85-76 victory.

“It was one of the great individual displays you’ve ever seen,” UNC’s Smith said.

It was one of the great individual displays anybody on Tobacco Road had – or ever would – see. Scott’s heroics not only earned the Tar Heels a third straight ACC championship, they also demonstrated in the clearest way possible that the black athlete had arrived and would forever change the way basketball was played on Tobacco Road.

Some of the league’s old-timers had been resisting that revelation. That became obvious on the Monday after the ACC championship game, when the league announced the voting for ACC player of the year. South Carolina’s John Roche won the award with 56 votes to 39 for Scott. Worse, Roche was a unanimous choice for first-team All-ACC, while Scott, a consensus All-American, was left off five ballots entirely.

It was a slight that Scott refused to swallow without gagging.

“They put a guy ahead of me because he’s white,” Scott told the Washington Post. “It’s a frustrating thing when you go to the Olympics and you represent your state, your country and your conference. It really makes you think. It makes you wonder.”

When reporters ran to Smith with Scott’s comments, he backed his star up, although at the time, he denied that the voting slight was racist in nature.

“It just shows the lack of basketball knowledge of those writers,” he said.

Smith pointed to the change in the voting rules instituted after Duke’s Steve Vacendak had won player of the year honors in 1966. Originally, the all-conference team was voted on before the tournament and the player of the year afterwards. But when Duke’s second-team all-conference guard won the player of the year vote after a strong tournament, the rules were changed so that player of the year votes were accepted before the tournament.

As a result, most voters were casting their player of the year votes during the last week of the regular season, when Roche was scoring 37 points in a loss to UNC and 38 in his finale against Clemson

“If the votes were taken [after the tournament] I believe Charles would be player of the year,” Smith said at the time.

Many years later, in his autobiography, Smith was more open about the vote.

“It was transparently racist,” he wrote. “The real telltale sign of what happened was that five voters did not even put Charles on their all-conference team – despite the fact that he was an Olympian and a first-team All-American. It was a clear insult.”

Scott later revealed that he seriously considered boycotting the NCAA Tournament as a protest of the racist vote. Instead, he decided to play and stick it to his critics in the best way possible – by leading UNC to its third straight Final Four.

He had 22 points and six assists in a surprisingly tough East Regional semifinal victory over Duquesne. The Tar Heels, playing without Grubar, trailed 76-75 in the final minute before Scott’s pass to sophomore big man Lee Dedmon set up the go-ahead basket. Moments later, Scott rebounded a Duquesne miss and again fed Dedmon for the clinching field goal.

That set up a second straight matchup with Davidson in the East Regional title game. Wildcat coach Lefty Driesell, still haunted by how close he had come to landing Scott, told reporters, “I’d rather die than lose to North Carolina again.”

But he did lose to North Carolina again, 87-85, thanks to Scott, who poured in 32 points, including the game-winning shot from the top of the key at the buzzer.

The ACC voters who had so clearly insulted Scott in the All-ACC vote, tried to make amends later that summer when they voted Scott the McKevlin Award as the ACC’s top athlete. It was a small admission that the world was finally changing.

I would argue that after Scott’s travails, the ACC managed to complete his integration with a minimum of problems. The year after UNC’s star left for the NBA, Wake
Forest's Charlie Davis became the ACC’s first black player of the year. Within the next few years, blacks stars such as David Thompson, John Lucas and Phil Ford would win widespread acclaim with little reference to their race.

So if Charlie Scott wasn’t the ACC’s first black player, he was without question, the league’s most important racial trailblazer.

[COMING UP: A review of Glory Road and a look back at the 1966 Final Four and it’s real place in basketball history]