Photo: North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith with Charlie Scott in 2011.
I was still researching and writing “Raye of Light” when North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith was named to receive the Medal of Freedom in a White House ceremony with President Obama in 2013.
In addition to detailing Michigan State football coach Duffy Daugherty’s Underground Railroad and Jimmy Raye’s trailblazing career as a black college quarterback and pioneering black NFL coach from segregated Fayetteville, N.C., I learned was Daugherty and Smith shared much in common. I was reminded of this with news of Smith's death Saturday night at age 83.
Daugherty, who died at age 72 in 1987, and Smith won national titles and led the integration of college athletics. Mostly, though, they believed that “the time is always right to do right.”
Those were the words of Martin Luther King Jr. when he spoke at Michigan State on Feb. 11, 1965 before a full house of 4,000 people at the MSU Auditorium. King had been told by some white ministers that he was pushing integration too aggressively and to wait for the right time.
“Time is neutral,” King said in response, “and the time is always right to do right.”
That answer was taken from words he penned in “Letter from a Birmingham jail” in 1963. King also wrote, “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
Duffy Daugherty did not wait for alumni approval to recruit black athletes from the North to play for his teams in the 1950s. When televised Michigan State games, including the 1954 Rose Bowl with Daugherty an assistant on head coach Biggie Munn's staff, and Duffy as the head coach for the 1956 Rose Bowl, revealed the number of black players on the Spartans’ roster, southern black high school coaches began contacting Daugherty. They met him at clinics when Daugherty was the only coach making such an effort in the South. They steered their star athletes out of segregation to the land of opportunity on the East Lansing campus.
Daugherty did not wait for alumni approval to recruit 44 black players from the segregated South – with a 68-percent graduation rate in an era before the academic supports systems that are now in pace in college athletic departments – between 1959 and 1972 (his last season.)
Among those southern black recruits escaping segregation were College Football Hall of Famers Bubba Smith of Beaumont, Tx., George Webster of Anderson, S.C., and Gene Washington of La Porte, Tx. Also, though, another unknown player was Clifton Roaf of Pine Bluff, Ark. He never played a down due to an injury but capitalized on his academic opportunity. He recently retired after 40 years as a dentist in his hometown.
Daugherty did not wait to start Jimmy Raye, theSouth’s first black quarterback to win a national title when the Spartans and Notre Dame were the National Football Foundation’s co-national champions.
Daugherty may have been coaching in the North out of the reach of Jim Crow laws,but so was Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey when he broke Major League Baseball’s color line with Jackie Robinson in 1947. Both of them received their share of hate mail from racists.
The same was true with Dean Smith. He did not wait for the alumni to sign Charlie Scott as North Carolina’s first black scholarship athlete in 1966.
This is an excerpt on Smith from Chapter 19 of "Raye of Light:"
“In 1958, Dean Smith was merely a 27-year-old first-year assistant basketball coach to University of North Carolina head coach Frank McGuire when he challenged segregation at a popular restaurant in the UNC campus town of Chapel Hill. Smith told the story for the first time in his 2002 book, ‘A Coach’s Life.’
“Smith and Reverend Robert Seymour of Brinkley Baptist Church had a conversation about the need todo something to challenge segregation. Smith and a black theology student who was member at Brinkley Baptist sat down together at The Pines, a popular Chapel Hill restaurant. They were served without incident.
“ ‘You have to understand, Dean Smith wasn’t Dean Smith in 1958,' Seymour told John Feinstein in his book One on One. 'He was an assistant coach. It wasn’t out of the question that management might have complained to the university and he might have gotten in serious trouble. But he never hesitated to do it.’
“Upon learning the story decades later, Feinstein writes he asked Smith to comment on his bold challenge. Smith declined. Feinstein encouraged him, saying he should be proud of the moment in time.
“ ‘You should never be proud of doing the right thing,' Smith replied. 'You should just do it.’
“Smith soon succeeded Frank McGuire as head coach in the 1961-62 season. His career started slowly, with students hanging him in effigy on campus. Before he gained the clout of his first ACC titles or even his initial Final Four trip and national title, Smith signed Charlie Scott in 1966 as the Tar Heels’ first black scholarship player. Due to NCAA freshman eligibility rules, Scott’s first varsity season was as a sophomore in the 1967-68 season when he led the North Carolina to Smith’s first Final Four. In October 1968, Scott helped the USA basketball team win an Olympic gold medal at the Mexico City Games. A black athlete could represent the U.S. in a red-white-blue uniform in 1968 – but not Bear Bryant’s crimson and white Alabama uniform.”
That was something else Dean and Duffy shared: Courage to do the right thing and humility follow through without seeking attention or praise.
In February 1958, shortly before Smith arrived in Chapel Hill as a new North Carolina basketball assistant for the 1958-59 school year, Martin Luther King spoke before a full house of white and black citizens at esteemed Broughton High’s 1,300-seat auditorium. MLK's words that day can be read in the Broughton gym lobby:
“The philosophy of segregation is directly opposed to the philosophy of Christianity and the philosophy of democracy,” King said. “It is a cancer on the body politic, and until it is removed our democratic health cannot be realized. I believe there are many more people of goodwill in the white South today than we see on the surface. I call upon them in the name of the Almighty God to stand up and make a courageous stand to make justice reality. The Christian Church has a great role to play … it must continue to make a stand.”
Smith, who was from Emporia, Kansas, arrived in the white South as a person of goodwill. He stood up and made a courageous stand to make justice reality.
Dean Smith certainly deserved his Medal of Freedom, but his case makes me believe Daugherty deserves one, too. I wrote my own humble letter to the White House nominating Daugherty, but who knows where it stands at this point in the process. Who knows if it got past filters to a decision-maker. I'm confident President Obama would be inspired by the story if he heard it.
Duffy Daugherty and Dean Smith were two coaches who shared Martin Luther King’s dream.