On July 18, 2015, Jerry LeVias and Milton Morgan were among the many athletes and coaches inducted into the Hall of Fame for the Prairie View Interscholastic League Coaches Association (PVILCA), which keeps alive the history of Texas high-school athletics from the segregationist era.
LeVias was the first African-American scholarship football athlete in the old Southwest Conference, “breaking the ice” on the “gentlemen’s agreement” that kept the conference segregated. He was an explosive, game-changing wide receiver for Hayden Fry’s SMU Mustangs from 1966 to 1968. He faced some fierce racist backlash, and at one point was encouraged personally by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, who recognized that LeVias was doing his part for the movement. Milton was coaching the defense at LeVias’s high school, Beaumont Hebert, when a court order forced its integration with another school to create Beaumont West Brook, which won the Texas 5A state football championship in its first year, 1982. Both have contributed interviews to Farewell to Football.
As an inquiry, Farewell to Football seeks to understand the broad range of experiences and ideas associated with the sport, the opportunities as well as the dangers. One of the Examen questions asks: can football create opportunities for powerful social transformations?
At a time when our American segregationist past is at the heart of controversy, and some American activists (on the left as well as the right) support forms of historical revision, I think it’s worth pondering (and I got the sense at the banquet that more than a few in the PVILCA crowd were considering), “how far will the revision go? How much history will be erased?” Will this post itself be censored because it uses the term “segregationist”? What if I were to use, as one of the keynote speakers did at the banquet, terms like “Negro, colored, black, and Afro-American,” terms that at various times were considered proper and respectful? Will the history of courageous athletes and coaches who struggled along with Texas and the South and the United States of America toward a more inclusive society be lost in misguided efforts either to avoid offending anyone or to reduce the shame of historical episodes of oppression?