Sandy Stephens and Bill Munsey came here from the same Pennsylvania locale, Uniontown, to greatly assist in the Gophers’ only two trips to the Rose Bowl after the 1960 and 1961 seasons.
Munsey once said Sandy and he would take the short ride from campus to Hennepin Avenue, and then stand on a corner, just to see and talk with some black people outside the football team.
That’s the Minnesota where I grew up. I spent the first 16 years of my life in Fulda, in the southwest corner of the state. There were 15,000 residents of Murray County in 1960 and I can almost guarantee there wasn’t a black person among them.
There were a couple of black fellows temporarily, in the summer of 1949, when my father Richard hired Hilton Smith and Earl Ashby to play baseball for the Fulda Giants. This was a political move, in a way, for Richard figured if the Giants were to provide a proper level of entertainment, the citizens might approve a bond issue to install lights at the Fulda ballpark.
That’s exactly what happened. I went to Fulda to look through the archives of the hometown Free Press in 2001 (when Smith was to be inducted into the Hall of Fame) and discovered that the expenditure for lights was approved with ease.
I spent my senior year at Prior Lake High School, then a small school serving a small Irish village. It was as lily white as was Fulda in 1963.
I was headed to the University of Minnesota and landed a job as a copy boy in the sports department at the Minneapolis Morning Tribune. There wasn’t a black man or a woman of any race working in that department, not even for the menial task of answering calls.
We had the quarter system at the university and I was taking astronomy in the spring. Someone told me Bobby Bell was back from the Kansas City Chiefs that spring, working toward a degree, and he was enrolled in that class.
That would’ve been a thrill, since Mr. Bell remains my favorite all-time Gophers player 50 years later, but Bobby must have been there on the days that I skipped, and vice versa.
I’m guessing there was probably a conversation or two with a black person during my five quarters at the U, but I can’t be sure.
I was lured away from college for the kingly sum of $76.08 to go to work as a sports writer at the Duluth newspapers in 1966. The big story was Duluth East’s trip to the state basketball finals. East was then the white-collar school from the leafy portion of Duluth.
Which meant, many more interviews with white athletes.
My dear friend Mike Augustin arranged for my hiring at the St. Cloud Times in May 1966 for $110 per week (based on 52 hours). My main beats were St. Cloud State, St. Cloud Cathedral and helping with the high schools in the area.
The No. 1 area of interest was coach Red Severson’s SCSU basketball team. Severson’s Huskies were outstanding with Terry Porter and Tom Ditty, and also all-white in 1966-67.
There was no journalistic objectivity back then. Fifty years later, I look at Porter and Ditty as friends. And Red … well, once I was going to accompany him on a recruiting trip, and we didn’t get past Boudreau’s Bar on the East Side of St. Cloud.
Hey, we’re both long-reformed in that area, to the point Red became an author of inspirational books, while I just quit drinking.
Severson’s freshmen for 1967-68 included Louis Boone, a 6-foot-2 leaping forward from Minneapolis Central. And I was thinking about it Friday and reached this conclusion:
Boone was probably the first black guy that I interviewed for a feature story and got to know. I was in my 23rd year as a Minnesotan by then.
I’m a product of white Minnesota of the ’50s and ’60s, and I’m the last guy to offer grand insights on race relations in this state that’s part of my soul.
What I can say is that as someone who has lived here for 70 years, I have never been more mortified by a Minnesota event than what took place with the death of school worker Philando Castile in Falcon Heights on Wednesday night.
Shame on us for taking a life so freely.