Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Columbia’s black athletes excelled before integration

Columbia had three high schools in 1928 - Columbia High School, Douglass High School and the University Laboratory High School known as U-High.

My brother and I attended U-High, which was next to University Elementary Laboratory School, at the corner of Sixth Street and Conley Avenue. U-High was small - about 30 students in each grade - too small to field a football team. Sadly, it was laid to rest about 20 years ago.

Columbia High School, in the old part of today’s Jefferson Junior High School, enrolled no black students. Douglass High School, on Providence Road in the building that retains the name, enrolled only black students. Douglass and Columbia high schools were often champions of their respective football and basketball leagues, and they sometimes met in friendly competition after their schedules ended. Douglass was a much smaller school than Columbia High. When the city’s population was about 18,000, only about 600 were black. In those friendly ball games, Douglass’ team almost always won!

Through the years, we marveled at the superiority of Douglass High School athletes. Hal Warren, today a Columbia businessman, made such a remarkable record in basketball at Douglass that he earned scholarships, was known nationally and was even featured in Ripley’s "Believe It Or Not" column.

I have known Warren and his family since he was a youngster - he and two brothers grew up around a basketball hoop on a light pole. I used to see those kids shooting baskets in all kinds of weather, from daylight until almost pitch dark - they loved the game.

Warren owns Warren Funeral Chapel and was the first black elected to the Columbia City Council. His father, the late Boy Warren, was known to farmers and construction contractors as the strongest man and the best worker in the area. His mother, Katherine, now approaching 100 years of age, is admired and loved by many of both races. She used to walk about four miles to her job in Columbia and then walk home to her large family.

Schools were segregated from first grade to twelfth - and beyond. That changed in the l950s when the skill of black athletes was just beginning to be noticed.

In Indianapolis, 50 years before integration, a poor black boy who worked as a clean-up boy in a bicycle shop was also of "believe-it-or-not" quality.

In the 1800s, this boy distinguished himself in the "white, elitist" sport of bicycle racing. Marshall Taylor, who didn’t have a bike of his own, borrowed a tall, high-wheel bicycle, got in a local race and easily finished first.

Before the turn of the century, Taylor was winning every race he entered. This was so offensive to the snobbish cycle club that they voted to bar blacks. Then came the big race.

Taylor’s friend, the white shop manager, finagled an entry in the long-distance race from Indianapolis to Mathews, more than 60 miles. On race day, he had Taylor stay out of sight until the others cycled several miles. Taylor passed all of the other riders and finished the course a full hour ahead of the pack. As winner, he received a house and lot.

When Jesse Owens of Decatur, Ala., was 20, he set three world records in track and field events and tied another world record all on the same day. The next year, 1936, he won three Olympic gold medals.

Twelve years later, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier by earning a place on the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team. The success of black athletes was firmly established.


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