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June 22, 2011

There Were Five of Us

Four of Georgia's "Five Pioneers" from the 1971 freshman team: No. 32 Larry West, No. 35 Horace King, No. 51 Clarence Pope, and Chuck Kinnebrew at the top right.  Richard Appleby was ineligible.

Continued from Five Pioneers and Black Bulldog Quarterbacks...

Over UGA's Christmas break of 1970, the Bulldogs' football team, coming off a 5-5 season, carried out what was described as "the best move the 'Dogs have made lately," when the first group of black football players - Horace King, Clarence Pope, and Richard Appleby from Athens, Chuck Kinnebrew from Rome, and Larry West from Albany - signed with Georgia.

Seemingly, the school had come a long way since its segregated past.

Only 10 years before had U.S. District Court judge William A. Bootle ordered that the first two African Americans - Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter - be admitted into UGA.  That day in 1961, approximately 200 students had gathered at the Arch and there, while hanging a black-faced Holmes in effigy, chanted "Two, four, six, eight, we don't want to integrate."  Later that night, students flocked to the home of President O.C. Aderhold in an attempt to burn a fifteen foot high cross in his front yard.

Only a decade following this racist chaos, when interviewed, all five black football signees agreed they were "happy" at the university.  However, Kinnebrew (the outspoken one of the bunch) interestingly added that his attending college had been his parents' dream and "when my parents are happy, I'm happy."

As I indicated in an earlier post, the actual signing of the five players is well-documented in the annals of Georgia football history, however, any difficulties and hardships they encountered at the school is hardly discussed.

Prior to the group's arrival on campus and only a month after their signing, the Bulldogs had been shaken by allegations that three football players - Mayo Tucker, Bill Forehand, and Robert Honeycutt (eventual team captain of '72) - all upcoming juniors or seniors for the 1971 season and soon-to-be teammates of the five black recruits, had followed and attacked two African-American students at the Russell Hall dormitory parking lot and later "around the city."

That spring, the two black students testified against the three players in magistrate court, which referred the case to state court.  When the case was called in August of 1971, according to the Solicitor General for Athens-Clarke County, the two black students mysteriously "couldn't be found" and the case was dismissed.

In an interview with King, Pope, and Kinnebrew in the fall of 1971 (West couldn't make the interview while Appleby had been declared ineligible for the season), The Red and Black asked the three players if they specifically had encountered any problems since their arrival on campus; they all shook their heads while Kinnebrew added, "I didn't come here to be the first."

The black players always claimed they were treated fairly by the Georgia coaches; however, according to King in a 1984 interview, there were some teammates who were "rotten apples" - juniors and seniors, who would be leaving the school soon and "didn't have to face it."

In 2007, Pope recalled the group's arrival to campus in '71 when they were welcomed on the front steps at McWhorter Hall by a group of upperclassmen dressed in Ku Klux Klan attire, including a "Grand Dragon" holding a shotgun.  "It was something we didn't like," said Pope.

King has stated that he never thought of himself as a "pioneer" just because he signed to play football at Georgia - "there were five of us," he declared.

In handling the long process of adjustment and getting comfortable at UGA, each of the five signees benefited from what the previous black football players - James Hurley and John King - could not: a university in close proximity to their family and, perhaps more importantly, four others going through very similar circumstances.

"Our people usually keep pretty close," said Kinnebrew in November of 1971, "and if a prospective black recruitee asks me what it's like up here, I'll tell him like it is."


Cojones said...

I was attending UGA when James Hurley was on the JV Squad. He didn't join the team for his second year, but was present at halftime of the first home game to accept the tallest trophy I have ever seen in my 70 yrs for academic achievement during his Freshman year. Many of us in the stands were filled with pride and the applause was not muted. The Red and Black had just done an article on him and asked why he had not continued football at UGA. His answer was that he found he was not good enough athletically to make first team and he had wanted to play. That's why he transferred to Vandy where he played. I've seen veiled references that he was unwelcomed by the team. That was and is patently untrue. There were never any untoward articles that chronicled anything with players or coaches. The fact that he was accepted in the classroom and the team has always been there. I remember a friend of mine from Law School,his wife, and my wife were all together in the stands and that we shook hands.We both were Officer veterans of the Army(he had been Provost Marshall of Da Nang) and had worked toward peaceful integration on and off the campus. He was named to Law Review. We both had grown up in Georgia (he, in Athens and me, in So Ga)and were involved intentionally and later, accidentally after driving through the riots that occurred when Dr. King was murdered. Even with this fleeting breakdown of racial tolerance, UGA and the community were at a higher point of racial and interactive trust than two years later. A good deal of that racial interaction was driven by a proactive sports program and also the leadership of Coach Vince Dooley. My wife and I carried several black youths on separate occasions to Cultural Events programs that ran the gamut from Eddy Arnold to Ray Charles.We never heard a negative utterance.

Sometimes history stories of black players has to be supplemented with the positive social backgrounds fostered by many Georgians for their school and their state.

Patrick Garbin said...

Thanks for your informative post and "side story." Although Georgia's first black players undoubtedly had a difficult time adjusting, it's good to hear of those who were impartial and welcomed them to UGA and the community.