Wyoming’s Civil Rights Movement Sparked with ‘The Black 14′
Just a year and a half after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in April 1968, our whole nation got a look into how the Civil Rights Era was coming along in Wyoming. We didn't look good, thanks to a racist football coach at the University of Wyoming. "The Black 14” were suddenly kicked off the team just four games into the 1969 Cowboy football season.
It all began with a protest, yet according to one player involved, the media often gets the story wrong.
This past year we posted here about Wyoming’s old bad mark and a new CBS Sports Net documentary. It featured original members of The Black 14. It was picked up by Jay Berry of the 14, who emailed us about his hopes that CBS would “get it right.” Actually, Jay, who became a tv sports reporter, himself, had still been waiting a long time for someone – anyone - to get it right. So we listened. His full story, with audio of our conversation, is still right here.
With four games as a Wyoming Cowboy, Jay set records that still haven’t been broken at UW since 1969.
Jay gave his full story for the record of when 14 football players went to ask their coach if they could do a silent protest by simply wearing black armbands on the field against one team that had racially taunted them the previous year, BYU. Jay said:
When we reached out to [Then Wyoming Head Coach] coach Eaton, hoping to explain our feelings, we were met with racially charged statements. "If not for me, you’d all be at Grambling or Morgan State, starving to death."
In 2009, the Denver Post’s John Henderson updated us on four other original members, in “Spirit of the Black 14.” After player's lives had been irrevocably changed decades earlier during the Civil Rights Era, progress had been slow. In the late 1990s, however, the story finally showed the times could have changed since the late1960s.
When players recruited to Laramie came from other melting pots of the country, the athletes could mix better with other the other race. It was different, however, where things were more like Utah and Wyoming. Here, in those days, folks saw each other as more just black, or white.
In 1969, in a state with the lowest population, just imagine how the Cowboy State saw even fewer African Americans back then. Ironically, “The Equality State” was originally about just gender (150 years ago). Equality was not so well offered to everyone – not for a long time. As for race equality in the last 50 years, however, despite our past, we’d like to think that Wyoming has come a long way. And that's largely thanks to one great man named King.