Commentary by Bill Lawson

Dr. Martin Luther King’s admonition that “a man should be judged by his character not the color of his skin” came with the requirement, of accepting personal responsibility:

“We are not responsible for the environment we are born in, neither are we responsible for our hereditary circumstances. but there is a third factor for which we are responsible, namely the personal response which we make to those circumstances. And so, the challenge which confronts all of us is to respond to our circumstances with strength and courage rather than weakness and despair.” [i]

King refused to allow bitterness to stymie his ambition to right society’s shortcomings when he stated, “Not environment, not heredity, but personal response is the final determining factor in our lives. And herein lies our area of responsibility.”

Identity Politics

Dr. King would abhor the Identity politics of Critical Race Theory (CRT)that “aims to divide us into balkanized, competing groups, suspicious of one another and in constant conflict.  The Left uses identity politics not to benefit minorities but as a calculated strategy to sustain their currency of minority victimhood.” [ii]

Be assured the solution to identity politics that is ripping the moral fabric of our society will neither come from Washington, DC nor a Federal Court. It is going to have to come from Main Street and the likes of my high school basketball coach, Norman Price. I witnessed the needed antidote in December of 1963.

Seacrest HS- Delray Beach, Florida

My high school, Seacrest HS in Delray Beach, integrated in 1961 but we did not have black athletes until 1963. Our JV basketball team included two of the first athletes of color to participate in the Suncoast Conference, which was comprised of Palm Beach County and Glades County. Our first road game that season was in Pahokee, Florida.

Coach Norman Price

I was privileged to be on Coach Price’s Seacrest Seahawks basketball team for two years. Straightforward, and a man of his word he impacted the lives of so many by the example he set. If there ever was an example to be followed it would be in Pahokee, Florida. Coach Price, who was also the Athletic Director, and JV Coach John Hardage spoke to both young athletes prior to the trip. Only one of them chose to play that night. The country was in turmoil only two months after President Kennedy’s assassination and racial tensions were simmering.  Lincoln Thomas chose to make that historic trip, with strength and courage as his allies. A quiet person, he did his talking between the lines on the court.

There Was No Entourage 

Lincoln Thomas was only fifteen years old, doing something that no person of color had ever done: That was stepping into the arena of athletic competition in Pahokee, Florida. His only supporters were his teammates on both the varsity and JV teams, Coach Price, Coach Hardage, and a handful of parents. No special interest group accompanied him. I still cannot fathom how much courage it must have taken him to step onto that court. The Pahokee Blue Devils were on Lake Okeechobee in a rural farming community. It was an intimidating place to play any sport in any season. They called us “cake eaters” implying that we were soft city boys. Racist elements abounded and the presence of the Klan was well known in Florida.

A hostile environment at best, Lincoln’s courage embodied Dr King’s admonition that personal response was the determining factor in one’s life, not environment.

We’ll Play Both or We Won’t Play Either

Coach Price taught us discipline above all else. We learned that there was no easy way, or shortcuts. There was only one way and that was the right way. Norman Price demonstrated that right way that December night when the Pahokee coach stated we would play the varsity game but not the JV game. JV Coach Hardage told us Coach Price did not blink an eye when he stated, “We’ll play both or we won’t play either.”

The JV game was prior to the varsity game. The gymnasium was cleared of spectators and only the teams and officials were present. Both Seahawk teams came ready to play and the “cake eaters “from Delray Beach ran the Blue Devils out of the gym in both the JV and Varsity game.

Epilogue

Lincoln Thomas would receive All Suncoast Conference honors by his senior year, while demonstrating in his quiet, dignified way that “a man should be judged by his character not the color of his skin.”

In the ensuing years the Seacrest Seahawks would become the Delray Atlantic Eagles. Coach Price would become Assistant Principal as he shepherded the student body through the tumultuous late sixties.

Washington, that is the right way: the way Coach Norman Price and Lincoln Thomas did it!

 

[i] D.C. McAllister, Martin Luther King, Jr. Tells Us to Take Personal Responsibility, Not Blame Others, January 15, 2018

[ii] David Limbaugh, Guilty by Reason of Insanity, page 12.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *