A View From The Shadow: For The Good Of The Game-PART 2

By Fred Whitted
Updated: February 15, 2005
Harry Carson

NEW YORK, NY—The news that Harry Carson had attempted to have his name removed from the Pro Football Hall of Fame ballot points to a great dilemma in our culture. Prior to his failure to be inducted in the most recent class, Carson, a South Carolina State graduate and nine-time all pro linebacker, requested that his name be removed from the ballot. After being considered, but not inducted, he felt insulted by the voters. There is a lot of merit to his argument, but there is an even greater insult: Carson and many other HBCU greats have not been properly honored by their own people. The two-time MEAC Defensive Player of the Year is not in the Black College Sports Hall of Fame. Why is that so? It does not exist. There is no place that truly honors Back college graduates, athlete and coaches, or administrators.

While on the surface this may not seem to have much meaning because Carson record speaks for itself. There is still an underlying symptom of history. People honor an respect those who are given honor and respect. We see it every year during Black History Month. The masses tend to celebrate those we have been celebrating.

Ten years ago the late John McLendon told me that no one should ever care as much about our history as we do, and, no one is going to do more to preserve it than we do. At the time, Coach McLendon was working diligently to develop a museum and hall of fame to honor graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He was admiring some of the work I had done in the area of HBCU sports and alumni history.

After seeing what I had done, he gave me some pointers on some people that I had missed or did not have much detail on. Although we had talked on the phone several times, this was our first official meeting since I was referred to him as a researcher for his project. Since I had spent nearly a decade working to gather bits and pieces of history related to HBCUs, their graduates and administrators, and their coaches and athletes.

It was an humbling experience to have such a great man invite my assistance on such a humungous project. At a time when I was hoping he would just let me pitch in, he was going around telling people what a genius I was on Black college sports history. Little did I know he was mentioning my name in places where I would never have been able to go without his blessing.

Over the five years we worked together he encouraged my efforts, even when we did not agree on some matter. He allowed me to reached and document things he had full knowledge of. At times I wondered why he sent me on what I thought was a wild goose chase. Eventually I realized that this was his way of allowing me to get first-hand information from people in his inner circle. I would hear a comment regularly when I was asking people for interviews or information, “So, you’re that boy working for Mac.?” Once I got over the initial shock, it became a badge of honor.

Since his death, the dream has been allowed to fade into oblivion by people who mean well, but are so intent on protecting it that they are getting nothing done. While I am partly at fault for not being more assertive in this matter, I have continued to mine the libraries and pester sports information directors through out HBCU land for information and photographs. I have scoured libraries and other sources to come up with a collection of more than 3,500 digital photos along with more than 1,000 hard copies. There are more than 1,500 media guides, along with more than 1000 newspaper and magazine clippings. There is a lot of other stuff in boxes from various projects that I am now quite sure what it is, but it has something to do with HBCU sports or history. All of this adds up to one fact: WE NEED A MUSEUM AND HALL OF FAME OF OUR OWN.

Reviewing the Pro Football and Naismith Halls of Fame, along with NCAA lists of outstanding coaches and athletes further solidifies this need. While there are a number of Black players, there are only a few Blacks inducted into any of the major halls of fame. Only small numbers of Black college athletes and coaches have been recognized for their performances while many lesser whites are included. Even when Black college athletes are included, many of the best have been overlooked. Case in point, the NCAA lists the outstanding basketball players. Their list hast 13 players, including Earl Monroe, Sam Jones, and Willis Reed, all members of the Naismith Hall of Fame. These, along with the other ten exclude all but three of the top twenty scorers and all but one of the top rebounders in history of Black college basketball. The lists exclude all Black coaches except John McLendon and Big House Gaines. Temple’s John Chaney, an HBCU grad and former coach at Cheyney State, is listed because he is now a member of the Hall of Fame and for his record at Temple.

What does this say about the rest of Black college athletics. True to form, the NCAA, and others, still do not fully recognize things that went on while they denied access to Blacks. Only within the last decade did the College Football Hall of Fame begin to recognize players from HBCUs. In a discussion with their research staff some years ago, they were quite adamant about including a number of players. The problem was that they were looking at players based on their mark at the professional level rather than what they did at the college level. One such player was Walter Payton. According to their staff, he was chosen as the all-time leading rusher. After some discussion they were shocked to learn that he was not even the leading rusher at his alma mater or in the SWAC. They did not know the record he did hold, career scoring.

Conspicuously absent from the NCAA list are all of the top seven scorers in Black college basketball. We are talking top basketball players without the top scorer, Tavis Grant, who scored 4465 points. Not only has he not been inducted 32 years after graduating, there is no evidence that he has been considered. Alphonso Ford (5), Earl Monroe (11) and Steven Rogers (25) are the only three of the top 25 scorers in Black college basketball history are listed among the greatest HBCU players of all time. Only Willis Reed is listed among the tops in rebounding. The irony of these lists is most of the top players are missing and most of the ones on the list are there because they made it at the professional level. Willis Reed, great as he was, was not even the best in rebounding at Grambling. Conspicuously missing are such stars as Bob Hopkins, Mike Davis, Cleo Hill, Dick Barnett (who led Tennessee State to three national titles), Marvin Webster, and Zelmo Beatty. Beatty and Webster each has a national championship to their credit, as does Charles Hardnett, who was the star as Reed’s teammate when Grambling won the NAIA National Championship in 1961 while Reed was a role player.

Again, much of this information is unknown to those who make the decision on who is inducted. An even greater tragedy is this is not known by the masses of Blacks. Most would disagree if you told them that there were ten players from HBCUs who had scored more than 3,000 points and a total of 26 who have scored more than 2,500 points. They would argue the fact that the all-time leader in blocked shots is from an HBCU. The fact is both the men’s and women’s records are held by HBCU grads.

Going back to one of the bones of contention that Coach McLendon had, Blacks have done a poor job of keeping records. And, where the records have been kept, the information has not been properly circulated. We have not done a good job of telling our stories. It would be easy for us to condemn what the masses have not done, IF, we had done a good job of honoring our own. We can do little to complain about what they are not doing when we have done so little to highlight those who have done so much for us.

This is why Coach McLendon spent his latter years working so diligently to develop a museum and hall of fame. The concept is not new. It just has not been done. The Black College Sports Encyclopedia and the American Role Models Program were developed because there was no real structure in place to house such information. It was felt at the time that it would be nice to have something that would show the public what HBCUs have produced. This is a solid foundation on-which a museum and hall of fame can be developed.

The time has come for all of those people who are so interested in uncovering and preserving Black history to step forward. As we are bombarded with all of those Black history documentaries on PBS, and Black History Month vignettes, count the ones that talk about HBCUs for more than two minutes. Then, take a few minutes and think about the amount of knowledge you have about your alma mater or your favorite HBCU. If you are of sound mind, you will have a documentary of your own running through your head. The information is available to do books, documentaries, and develop a viable museum and hall of fame. The question is not can it be done, but will we do it. With the hundreds of thousands of HBCU grads around the United States, there is a huge support base, and all we have to do is tap it. The time has come for the McLendon dream to be fulfilled. Better still, more of mean stream America will know and understand who we think is important in our history. No one can know or appreciate our history better than we can. All that is left for us to do is show the world what is important to us.