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Thursday, April 3rd, 2008 by

Bill Elder’s memoir All Guts and No Glory recounts Bill’s struggles to break racial barriers with a a courageous group of white and black student athletes at Northeast State Junior College in Alabama in the early 1970s. Recently Bill watched Dan Klores’s documentary Black Magic, about basketball players at historically black colleges and universities during the civil rights movement, and he shares his thoughts about the program:

Dan Klores’s Black Magic is both a painful and uplifting documentary that details how black basketball players and coaches overcame oppressive racial prejudice to make an indelible impact on the game of college basketball. Through the lens of basketball, Klores provides an honest look at the complicated and deep-seated issues of race during the days of segregation and later at a time after laws had been changed but hearts remained pretty much the same.

Klores’s work is of special interest to me since I grew up during the time of segregation and early integration and observed some of this overt racial prejudice first hand as a child and later as a college basketball player and coach. After graduating from college in the mid `60’s, I started my college basketball coaching career and recruited the first black players to a small college in Alabama. I spent most of my career coaching at NAIA schools, the NAIA being the first college athletic association to allow black players to participate. Despite the fact that the NAIA initially had restrictions on the number of black teams that could participate in their post season tournament, I am proud of the early stance (prior to that of the NCAA) that this organization took.

I was inspired by the documentary’s portrayal of the inner spirit and courage of the black players and coaches during this troubled time, a spirit that enabled them to continue playing and coaching the game that they loved despite the fact that so many doors were shut to them at the college and professional levels. The documentary gave me new insight into the role of the historically black colleges and universities during this time of limited educational and athletic opportunities for African Americans. These schools not only provided young black students a higher education but also served as a place of nurturing and mentoring – “safe houses,” as one speaker called them – during this troubled time in our country. They also served as a platform for many very creative and talented coaches to demonstrate their worth.

The documentary Black Magic exudes the sheer joy of black athletes who absolutely loved the game of basketball – players who honed their skills to perfection in less-than- adequate circumstances and then persevered through the injustice and unending frustration of racial intolerance for further opportunity to play the game.

A portion of the second part of the documentary details how the civil rights movement helped open doors for black players to play in increasing numbers at predominately white institutions throughout the nation. The most significant changes in this area, however, were in the South where college basketball teams had been totally segregated. Unfortunately, it was years before black basketball coaches were given the opportunity to serve as head coaches at predominately white schools.

One consequence of black players’ being given the opportunity to play at predominately white schools was that the tremendous talent pool that was available to coaches at historically black institutions was eventually depleted. In my opinion, the talent level at many of these schools was comparable to that of major colleges. Despite the fact that there are still a significant number of very strong teams at historically black schools, the overall talent level is not as good as it once was. The number of players from these institutions drafted to play in the NBA has significantly decreased over the years. On a positive note, the opportunity for black coaches to serve as head coaches at predominately white college as well as in the professional ranks has increased dramatically in recent years.

I think that all of us (black and white) owe the courageous black players and coaches who toiled for years under the national radar screen at historically black schools a debt of gratitude. Their efforts helped give deserving black players a venue to display their skills during a time of oppressive racial discrimination, provided significant impetus to the civil rights movement, and helped lay the groundwork for what the game of basketball has become today.

As a former college basketball coach, I have gained new insight into the plight of black players and coaches during this time in our history through Dan Klores’s documentary. I have always had deep respect for the players and coaches mentioned in this production but after watching Black Magic, I have even greater admiration for their efforts.

All Guts and No Glory is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon.com, or your favorite online and local booksellers.

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