A Man And A Story To Remember

He is the man in the middle.

William Felton was born on February 12, 1934.

His grandfather was the family’s first generation born free on this continent. The young boy would hear stories of how the Ku Klux Klan went after his grandfather because he tried to raise money among the poor blacks to build a schoolhouse and pay a teacher to educate their children.

The young boy would remember his grandfather’s story, and he would remember the racism he and his family lived with daily.

When he was growing up, he remembers his father was once refused service at a gas station until all the white customers were helped first; when his father tried to leave, the attendant put a shotgun in his face, telling him, “Boy, you’re going to buy your gas from me” and he had to wait.

He remembers when his mother walked outside the house, wearing a nice dress, and a white policeman told her to go home and remove the dress because only white women were allowed to wear nice dresses.

He would say later in life, “It stood out, a wall which understanding cannot penetrate. You are a Negro. You are less. It covered every area. A living, smarting, hurting, smelling, greasy substance which covered you. A morass to fight from.”

Before his mother died of kidney failure when he was 12, she had told him, “William, you are going to meet people who just don’t like you. On sight. And there’s nothing you can do about it, so don’t worry. Just be yourself. You’re no better than anyone else, but no one’s better than you.”

Young William Felton would remember those words.

When he tried to make something of himself, he would try sports, but he would immediately be cut from his junior high school basketball team and told he just didn’t understand the game. But, he didn’t give up. He tried again in high school and was almost cut again, but this time the coach saw something in the young William Felton Russell.

“Bill” Russell would go on to win consecutive NCAA titles at the University of San Francisco, an Olympic gold medal in 1956, then help the the Boston Celtics win 11 titles in his 13 seasons. He would become the first African-American coach in professional sports in North America when he was named Celtics player-coach in 1966.

He, however, still would experience racism, as a basketball player and as a person, especially after he challenged social injustice, attending the 1963 March on Washington, supporting Muhammad Ali’s decision not to serve in the military, and even more recently when he posted a picture of himself taking a knee in solidarity with NFL players.

Russell would be criticized, written negatively about in the press. During his early years playing basketball, he would be refused rooms at hotels and service at restaurants. After he was named player-coach, his home would be vandalized, covered with racist graffiti, and his beds defecated on.

But, through it all, he remembered his grandfather, his “heroic dignity against forces more powerful than him… he would not allow himself to be oppressed or intimidated by anyone.”

After he became the first African-American coach in professional sports in North America, he remembered inviting his grandfather to one of his games, how his grandfather was surprised that his grandson was actually the coach of an NBA team. He would ask Russell’s father, “of the white men, too?”

His father would simply reply, yes, “The white men too.”

And, when he got to visit the locker room, his grandfather was shocked that the black players were allowed to shower in the same room with the white players and that there was no “whites only” bathrooms and drinking fountains.

His grandfather would say of his experience watching his grandson play with and coach white players, “I never thought I’d see anything like that.”

His grandfather would cry that day.

His grandfather was proud of him then, and he would have been proud of his grandson even more when Bill Russell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his accomplishments on the court and in the Civil Rights Movement.

– Courtesy of Jon S. Randall Peace Page

And THIS, my friends, is but one of thousands of stories we MUST remember, MUST teach our children, in order that they not repeat the mistakes of the past.  Bill Russell died last July 31st at the age of 88.

28 thoughts on “A Man And A Story To Remember

  1. OMG, I love this story. It shows that regardless of the circumstances if you have the will to reach something specific you will find a way to get there. It may need more effort, more endurance, and more patients but if you got there it also means so much more!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jill, great story. I have written a few times about Bill Russell, arguably one of the greatest team basketball players ever with his fourteen championships (11 NBA, 2 NCAA and one Olympic). He was known for doing the things that others did not like to do – play defense, block shots, rebound and pass. He was known for blocking opponent shots to his teammates so that could start a fast break.

    And, he was known for throwing up in the locker room before big games as he was nervous. His teammates knew if Russell threw up, they were going to win as he cared so much.

    Finally, he was known for being a very smart man, not unlike Kareem Abdul Jabbar. He was well read and used it to help others. He, Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali all raised the bar on civil rights from their roles as great athletes.

    Thanks for sharing this. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    • Since I’m not a sports enthusiast, I hadn’t heard of him, or perhaps had only heard his name in passing, but he is indeed an admirable man! I love the story about him throwing up in the locker room before games and the team seeing that as indicative of a win! I’m glad you enjoyed this one, my friend!


      • Thanks Jill. His outspokenness on civil rights along with the other athletes I mentioned was held up as an exemplar for folks like Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan et al who were more silent so as not to hurt their endorsements. To their credit, Stephen Curry and LeBron James emulate Russell not Woods in being outspoken. Keith

        Liked by 1 person

        • And I would add Colin Kaepernick to that list … he paid a high price for taking a knee for racial justice. Isn’t it a shame that we have to keep fighting the same battles throughout the centuries? Sigh.


  3. This is a great story, no doubt. But it begs looking at the dark side. Mr. Russell used his talent to play a sport in order to get the chance to be a barrier breaker. But while black athletes in any sport are striving for equality, for each one who makes it there are tens of thousands of black people with no such talents who are living horrible lives with no chance of ever becoming famous and thereby being given a platform from which to fight for change.
    On top of that, look at how much money black athletes are making for the mainly white ownership of sports franchises. Yes, nowadays the athletes are making big salaries that can give them the power to promote change if they choose to do so, but ultimately sports and other forms of entertainment are doing nothing but distracting people from the real issues of life. Distractions are temporary, a momentary relief. Meanwhile after the game is over, win or lose, they return to their slave labour jobs, hoping no cops stop them on their way home,and beating them to death because of the colour of their skin!


  4. What an inspiring story Jill. It’s sobering to think this happened within the last few generations too. So much work still to be done and sharing and remembering these stories are part of the work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ab … I found it inspiring, too. What’s frightening is that there are a number of people, some in positions of power, who would like to erase our history, who would like to turn this nation into a strictly white, straight, Christian, male-dominated society. It sounds far-fetched, but if we keep lying about the past, keep whitewashing history, keep giving in to the bigots, then … I suppose anything is possible. The history of this nation IS Black history … Black people have been a part of our history since 1619, long before this was an independent nation! And sadly, they have had to fight, often with their very lives, just to be treated as a human. Sigh.

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  5. It is, more than vital, thst schools teach these facts of history to the younger generations, but unfortunately, the political parties, are trying to, erase this, important part of the shared history of a group of, people, and the younger generations won’t have a single clue of, what had, happened in history from long ago, and therefore, these younger generations are, without the roots, that will, help them grow up, into, knowledgeable enough, adults, and, these younger generations are going to be, leading the countries in the future, and future, is, doomed, because children didn’t get the opportunity to learn about what’s happened in the, past, all because the politicians, wanted to make sure they didn’t develop the thinking skills they need to, make judgements for them selves, so, the politicians can, continue to lead these future generations, toward, H-E-L-L.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it is vital and we’ve never really done a good job of it, but now they’re trying to completely re-write history. I’ve even heard one version of slavery that said the Blacks came here of their own choice to escape something in their own country, and they were so grateful to the plantation owners for giving them a place to live and food to eat. No mention of whipping, murdering, chains, babies taken and sold at birth … a truly false scenario. WHY would we even want to forget these things? No, they are not pleasant, not one of our prouder moments, but they are TRUTH. They happened and will happen again if we keep pretending they never did happen! Grrrrrrrrrrrr.


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  7. What a great ‘story’. I feel so privileged to have grown up in a world of equal values for everyone and take those wise words for me too:
    you are going to meet people who just don’t like you. On sight. And there’s nothing you can do about it, so don’t worry. Just be yourself. You’re no better than anyone else, but no one’s better than you.
    Thank you Jill. This is so humbling.

    Liked by 1 person

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