A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
UM Pioneers Forge Bond That Lasts A Lifetime
MIAMI — Their friendship started here, at the University of Miami. It was born in the racial turbulence of the mid-1960s, as an all-white football program was nudged grudgingly to desegregate itself.
Remarkably, it has lasted some 40 years and keeps on, this unique, unlikely bond between the president and the pioneer. Maybe that only proves that what they did, together, was important enough to last a lifetime.
Dr. Henry King Stanford is 89, retired and vitally alive in Americus, Ga.
Ray Bellamy, at 55, is now an assistant football coach and academics advisor at Fort Valley State about an hour away.
Once, so long ago the picture was black and white, they made Hurricanes history.
Somebody had to be the Jackie Robinson of major-college football in the Southeast. Bellamy was.
Somebody had to have the nerve to say, ”It’s time.” Stanford did.
”That’s my King,” Bellamy said Thursday, of the man who served as UM president from 1962 to 1981. “When the day comes when he’s no longer on this Earth, that’s going to be a loss for mankind. Henry King Stanford was committed. Without a doubt, he didn’t see colors.”
Stanford remembered Bellamy not only for his historic football role but also as UM’s first black student-government president. But who knew the relationship would never have ended? They speak almost daily.
”From an unknown football player,” Stanford marveled Thursday, “to a warm, close friend over the years.”
People think about UM football highlights and start with the national championships, but the moment that changed the Hurricanes most momentously occurred in Stanford’s office, toward the end of a visit with then-football coach Andy Gustafson. The Canes were lily white, in every sport.
Stanford recalls the exchange vividly.
Gustafson was about to leave the office, his hand on the doorknob, and said, “Anything I can do for you?”
The school president told him: Recruit a black football player.
”That doorknob turned to molten metal,” Stanford recalled Thursday, chuckling.
Gustafson never did as Stanford wished. Before long UM hired somebody who did, in Charlie Tate.
Bellamy was a lanky, 6-5 kid from near Bradenton, a kid who toughened up helping his dad pick vegetables in migrant fields. He signed his scholarship papers Dec. 12, 1966, becoming UM’s first black athlete and the first black major-college football player in the Southeast.
It wasn’t long before he found ”Go home n—–!” on his dormitory door. Similar sentiments arrived in hate mail he refers to as his ”love letters.” He kept them all in his scrapbooks. The scrapbooks recently were stolen, only memories in their place.
Why would anyone steal a scrapbook? Better question: Why would he have kept that hate mail in the first place?
”For people to know for real that it happened,” he said. “That I did live it.”
Bellamy did well in school and blossomed in football, setting UM sophomore records in 1968 with 37 catches for 549 yards, including a 78-yard TD against Stanford. Before a game at Auburn, there were death threats believed so serious the FBI was notified. Bellamy had eight catches that game.
Injuries pocked his junior year, alas, then a serious auto accident sidelined Bellamy his senior season. UM’s first black player doubtless would have been its first black star if sour luck hadn’t left that distinction to players such as Chuck Foreman and Burgess Owens who soon followed.
After college, Bellamy drifted a good bit (”Trying to find my little niche,” he said) before coming to realize football didn’t end for him with his pioneer’s work at UM.
”I did not want to coach football – didn’t think I did,” he said. “But if you care about young people, the commitment comes out of you. I’ve learned to love young people and make sure they’re successful and get their degrees. Life supersedes football. I’m never going to get rich doing it. But I’m going to sure be happy and feel good.”
Assistant coaching terms at South Carolina State and now Fort Valley made him believe he was ready to take over and reestablish the once-proud FAMU Rattlers program left close to a shambles by fired coach Billy Joe.
Supportive letters for Bellamy came from UM coach Larry Coker, from Georgia coach (and ex-Cane) Mark Richt and from his partner in history, Stanford, among others. But lack of head coaching experience weighed too much. He did not make FAMU’s list of five finalists released Thursday — a list that included Rubin Carter, one of the black former UM stars who followed on the path Bellamy set.
”These are the kind of roads that life takes you on,” said Bellamy, 40 years later. “It’s been a good ride.”
A hard ride, but good. And miles to go.