Eugene Cook’s high school football segregation fit

Most basic American history books point to a handful of big cases involving the rights of African-Americans.

There’s the Dred Scott decision. Voting rights established in the Constitution and the couple of Supreme Court cases where you can actually remember both sides: Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan. (1954).

Plessy v. Ferguson is commonly attributed as being the court case that established “separate but equal.” The latter, the Brown case, is supposed to have ended segregation entirely.

Of course, history is not as plain as that or as easy to enforce. Georgia fought long and hard for school segregation, with the University of Georgia integrating in January 1961 and four Atlanta public schools doing so in late August 1961. Several school districts integrated after 1965 and only under federal pressure.

Schools were not the only thing to desegregate years after the Brown decision. Macon integrated lunch counters in October 1961. The Wilcox County library was whites-only until July 1965.

Likewise, Plessy v. Ferguson did not guarantee that separate but equal would actually be equal. Lawsuits were filed in a handful of Georgia counties after World War II, including Irwin and Camden, asking for the equalization of school systems.

But even the supposed defeat of segregation in Brown v. Board in 1954 was not enough for Georgia Attorney General Eugene Cook to deny what was supposed to be set up by Plessy in 1896.

Cook outlawed a football game in 1956 on separate but equal grounds when equal grounds did not exist.

Hill High, an African-American institution of LaFayette, had been slated to meet Summerville High (usually called Summerville Negro is newspaper articles; Summerville’s black school was later named A.C. Carter) November 29, 1956, which was to take place at Sturdivant Stadium in Summerville.

Sturdivant Stadium was the home of the white Summerville High.

This enraged Cook, who ordered the game cancelled November 28.

The Savannah Morning News reported, “Cook said he told the officials Georgia’s segregation laws provide for separate facilities in the classroom and auditoriums as well as in the gymnasiums and football stadiums.”

There was a huge problem with this ruling.

Summerville’s black high school did not have a football field. Nor did Hill, which shared fields with LaFayette High at Patton Stadium.

The Ku Klux Klan protested the game, which was enough to get Chattooga County Schools to jump. They feared the wrath of Cook and worried that it might cost them state funds if the game was held.

Chattooga Countians were not thrilled with the decision. An estimated 1,500 of them cheered at a Jaycees meeting in Summerville when Cook was criticized for the move.

State Senator-elect Bobby Lee Cook, a Summerville-based attorney, was equally mad with the attorney general and promised to let him have it for two hours once Bobby Lee Cook took his seat in the Senate in January 1957.

The two black high schools were not even getting much out of it for themselves. Proceeds of the game, said the December 1956 edition of Southern School News, would have benefited the band of the white Summerville High.

Jaycees president Charles Farrar said $500 had been spent to promote the game. The group had hoped to make $2,500. Segregated seating had been planned.

Farrar promised that if necessary, the game would be held in a cow pasture. There were no follow-ups following the Southern School News article in December. Neither Summerville nor LaFayette newspapers seemingly ever even mentioned the game. (Rome News-Tribune editions from the end of 1956 are not included with Google’s scans of the paper’s archives, limiting spur of the moment research.)

Eugene Cook’s and the Klan’s interest in the game are a bit strange.

Separate but equal facilities were routinely overlooked in the land of high school football, where most white and black football-playing schools had agreements about use of the white field.

Rome’s Main High played at Barron Stadium. Fairmont High in Griffin played at Memorial Stadium, before and after a money-losing attempt at hosting their own games. Cleveland Field was home to Dasher and later Pinevale in Valdosta. Athens High and Industrial (later known as Burney Harris) even played at least a handful of games at Sanford Stadium.

Eugene Cook had dozens of examples to choose from every week on the high school gridiron of a black school playing at a playing field used by white players at all other times. He picked on a benefit game between two very small high schools and in two areas with a small black population.

Earlier in 1956, Eugene Cook turned down another attempt at venue-sharing between a white high school and a black high school that lacked facilities.

Dallas High was considering allowing Matthews High to use the gym one night per week.

There was much hesitancy to this on the part of Dallas residents and Paulding County Superintendent J.C. Scoggins asked for Eugene Cook’s opinion.

Not surprisingly, Cook shot down the idea on the grounds that it violated Georgia’s “social customs and traditions.”

Postscript: Some idea of how Sturdivant Stadium looked can be gleaned from the backgrounds of some sporting images at Chattooga Photo History. Located on Summerville High’s land (and Chattooga High’s after consolidation), Sturdivant Stadium was used by Chattooga High through the 1965 season.

Sources: Camden County Tribune – March 9, 1951; The Daily Tifton Gazette – Nov. 30, 1956; The Lanier County News – Nov. 3, 1949; Rome News-Tribune – Nov. 1, 1961; The Savannah Morning News – Nov. 29, 1956; Southern School News – March 1956, December 1956; The Wilcox County Chronicle – June 17, 1965

Advertisements

Bad grades end Toombs Central’s final season early

The gradebook can be a coach’s greatest fear.

It can take perfectly healthy players away, it can ruin state championships.

The 1987 Rockdale County boys had to forfeit their Class AAA basketball state crown because of an ineligible player that checked in as a sub during the state tournament.

The Rockdale situation was the costliest because of grades, but a few weeks earlier, the gradebook had been powerful enough to send one school’s entire season to a halt.

Toombs Central was at the end of its days as a high school in 1987; just a few months later, it was consolidated with Lyons as Toombs County High.

Located on US 1 a few miles south of Lyons, it had an average daily attendance of 97 when the Georgia High School Association reclassified in 1986. The figure was 29 less than what it had six years earlier.

Toombs Central was so small, it was the third smallest non-specialized public school in Georgia in 1986, behind Union County’s Woody Gap and Echols County.

Not surprisingly, its sports rosters were also tiny.

The Yellow Jackets fielded football teams from 1976-86, but struggled tremendously, winning as many as five games just once and finished out on a 1-39 streak.

Toombs Central did better in basketball, finishing as state runners-up in girls Class C hoops in 1958 and making three other semifinals. The boys made appearances in 1960 and 1963, but never won a game in state.

Boys basketball was struggling even more in the final season of 1986-87.

The Jackets were 0-11 in February 1987. The roster consisted of seven players.

But if Toombs didn’t think their situation could get any worse, it did.

On February 6, The Atlanta Constitution’s Steve Figueroa reported, “Toombs Central High in Lyons has canceled the remainder of its boys varsity basketball schedule because four of the seven players fell short of the standards and were declared ineligible.”

The academic rule that claimed the Yellow Jackets’ season was a new one by the Georgia High School Association, Figueroa said.

Students had to be passing five of six courses with a 70 or higher to participate in extracurricular activities.

GHSA executive secretary Bill Fordham said it was a first, to his knowledge, that a season was cancelled for this reason.

Toombs wasn’t the only school affected by the new rule – Rockdale had lost five players at that point – but at the time, Toombs was hit the hardest.

Predictably, Yellow Jackets head coach Wilbur Mallory was not happy with his team.

“We talked and talked to our kids about their grades, but they didn’t listen,” Mallory told The Constitution. “They’re doing their work now, but it’s too late. Sometimes it takes a cold slap in the face to wake you up, and I hope that’s what has happened with our kids.”

Mallory was also upset for the girls team, which he also coached. Teams did not want to play just one game per night and so several had cancelled games.

“Our girls are really mad at the boys,” said Mallory. “The girls all made their grades and now they’re having to forfeit because the boys didn’t. It’s a breach of contract on our part, so those schools don’t have to play just our girls teams, but I think it’s pretty bad of those who don’t.”

The lack of players prevented Toombs Central’s boys from playing in the region tournament, meaning they didn’t even have a chance of playing for state.

Mallory, who had been head coach of the football squad in 1985, warned the players they were in trouble for eligibility for that sport come fall, but it turned out to be a moot point as Toombs Central closed at the end of the school year.

Sources: The Atlanta Constitution – Feb. 6, 1987; Georgia High School Football Historians Association; Georgia High School Association Constitution and By-Laws 1986-87; Note: Neither Toombs County paper, The Vidalia Advance or The Lyons Progress, covered the Toombs Central grades situation.

A two-city doubleheader and a mystery reference

Tift County Industrial opened its 1950-51 basketball season rather late – January 19 – but the Tigers didn’t hesitate in making up for lost time.

They played a doubleheader on the opening day (and night).

“[T]hey open the 1951 basketball season on the road against Hahira this afternoon and Dasher High, of Valdosta, tonight,” according to the January 19, 1951 Daily Tifton Gazette.

Hahira’s African-American high school closed in 1959 with the opening of Westside. At the time of its closing, it was known as Webb-Miller, but it is unknown if that name was in use in 1951. Dasher ceased being a high school in 1956 when Valdosta city built Pinevale.

Though doubleheaders seem quite rare, even in segregated basketball, this one would have been relatively easy to pull off. An afternoon game at Hahira almost certainly meant that the school lacked a gymnasium. Many segregated high schools played outdoors for that reason.

Dasher, being the nicer city high school, had a gymnasium. If not on their campus, somewhere in the community that allowed it to call home. The ride from Hahira to south Valdosta would have taken less than 30 minutes.

(Tift County’s black community was seeking a gymnasium a few years later, seemingly indicating that Industrial, too, lacked an indoor court.)

There is a bit of mystery from the 1951 Gazette article:

“Both teams will be seeking to improve their last season’s record which ended with the girls taking third place in the state tournament and the boys fourth.”

Neither placed in the Georgia Interscholastic Association’s Class B 1950 state tournament. Industrial played football in Class B, though that did not necessarily mean the high school was; Class C never had enough member schools for its own state tournament.

Being the only black high school in Tift County, Industrial was likely a B school, especially as they made the 1949 state hoops tournament in B. However, no information currently exists about the 1950 Class C boys tournament. The girls did not place in the other half of Class C, though, where the third and fourth place teams were Ellaville and Union Normal (Bainbridge).

Class B girls’ third and fourth squads were Liberty County and a Cordele school (or Carroll County Training – results differ). The boys’ third and fourth were Savannah Street (Newnan) and Lemon Street (Marietta).

Nor did Tift County Industrial place in 1949. The boys were knocked out in the first round in 1949 by Union Baptist of Athens. The girls likely weren’t in the tournament.

It could be that the unknown black correspondent to the Gazette confused district and state. Basketball game results for Industrial are nearly nil, especially during that era.

Among the easiest sweeps ever

Southwood School of Waycross was quite happy with a pair of victories in November 1982.

The Warriors and Warrior Maidens didn’t even have to break a sweat when defeating Pinewood Christian Academy of Bellville on the home courts.

Mainly because Pinewood didn’t appear, according to the Waycross Journal-Herald.

“They didn’t show up,” said Southwood Coach Joby Boydstone. “We called them and they apparently had a mix-up because they said they didn’t even have the game listed on their schedule.”

Southwood’s girls would not need the help during the season. They went on to win the SEAIS Class A championship over Effingham Academy. The boys were eliminated in the region tournament.

Sources: Waycross Journal-Herald – Dec. 3, 1982

 

When in doubt, look to the gym

 

Louisville Academy, the public high school in Louisville, found a way to make their gym even more purposeful in December 1952.

Already “being used as a school building, meeting place and colliseum [sic],” according to The News and Farmer, it picked up another use:

“During the past week “Louisville, Ga.” along with the longitude and latitude of the city, plus an arrow point northward, was painted in bright yellow characters atop the local gym.”

The News and Farmer had heard reports that it was visible from 15,000 feet.

Sources: The News and Farmer – Dec. 11, 1952

A new gym at Oak Park

The opening of new buildings always brought excitement to Georgia towns. That was certainly the case in late 1951 when Oak Park High debuted its new showplace.

With visitors apparently declaring it “one of the nicest and most serviceable structures of its kind,” the gymnatorium, as it was referred to, opened November 13 with games against Wheeler County High.

Wheeler won the girls game, 35-23, but Oak Park’s white-and-blue-clad boys destroyed the Alamo school, 72-39, in the finale.

Oak Park was nice enough that it hosted at least one game from out-of-county high schools. Vidalia and Lyons played there in January 1952 as neither school had its own gymnasium.

Within a decade, the air at Oak Park was decidedly different.

Few would have thought of closing the high school there in 1951, but low-attendance rural high schools who survived the consolidation efforts of the 1950s were soon out anyway under pressure from the state. Oak Park was transitioned into an elementary school in 1963. Twenty years later, the elementary was eliminated as well.

Sources: Swainsboro Forest-Blade – December 13, 1951; The Lyons Progress – January 10, 1952.

A rule referees might want to return

Watch any sporting events and you’ll likely hear at least some booing of a referee or umpire by fans.

On rare occasions, the official will ask a fan to exit the building. But what if officials could really strike back, say make it really count?

For at least a few years, basketball officials could.

Not many examples have popped up from game reports, but in the 1940s-50s, the referees could turn that scowl into a foul: Free throws could be awarded for fans’ rowdyism.

Rowdyism is something that thankfully seems to have simmered down a good bit since that era. Fans can be nasty, but threats of serious violence are rare.

Fort Valley’s basketball boosters seem to have been so bad in January 1948, that the local newspaper, The Leader-Tribune was embarrassed.

“A high school basketball court is no place for prize-fight tactics. Yells of “he’s no good, take him out … kill ’em … kill the umpire” … accompanied by frequent boos and catcalls, serve only to enrage visitors and embarrass high school students, thus humiliated by the sorry spectacle of such behavior on the part of their elders.”

People from other towns were taking notice, said The Leader-Tribune, and the much-better-behaved kids were referring to it as “adult delinquency.” The paper offered some advice:

“Since we can’t set a good example, let’s follow theirs. Next time you go to a basketball game on the home court or elsewhere, take your good manners along. There is no better place to air them than in the presence of the youth of our community.”

No mentions were made of referees punishing Fort Valley, but a year earlier a young Jesse Outlar – writing for the Waycross Journal-Herald – shook his head at behavior witnessed at a Waycross-Nahunta game.

Booing caused Nahunta to be awarded nine technical foul shots on one play.

“Referee Glenn Paulk called one foul on a Bulldog player then the fans made nine in succession. As everyone knows, when the home crowd hisses and howls while an opponent attempts to shoot a free shot, then the official may call a technical foul. The fact that Nahunta missed nine of the ten is no factor.”

Outlar said most of the booing came from junior high students in the balcony, but their youth was no excuse for a negative reaction.

The rule was still on the books in 1952, when the appropriately-named Joe Sports said it almost cost the Douglas Pirates a game against Nashville.

“The boys game proved to be a different contest as the score remained close through out the game. Douglas managed to keep a few points lead until the 4th quarter when the score was tied 40 to 40. Nashville took a point lead by virtue of a technical foul called on the Douglas fans for unnecessary noise and booing. With only 40 seconds left to play, Douglas’ star forward, Bobby Green, stepped into his territory and shot. The ball sacked the net for 2 points to give the local boys a 42 to 41 win.”

Sources: The Leader-Tribune – Jan. 15, 1948;  Waycross Journal-Herald – Jan. 8, 1947; Coffee County Progress – Jan. 27, 1952.