Fired by Conscience:
The Black 14 Incident at the University of Wyoming and Black Protest in the Western Athletic Conference
The decade of the 1960s was a time of great change in the United States. The apathy, conformity, and often unquestioned platitudes of the 1950s disappeared in angry waves of activism, confrontation, and protests. The issues involved the role of the student in large universities, free speech, racial equality, and opposition to the expanding military involvement in Southeast Asia. Questions concerning these issues were raised throughout the country and, in 1969, rocked the campus at the University of Wyoming.
With increasing incidents of sit-ins, campus take-overs, marches, and demonstrations, much of the public yearned for the tranquility and stability of the 1950s. Opportunistic political figures on a local, state, and national level expounded a solution to the problems of protest utilizing key words such as “discipline,” “order,” and “law.” Part of the solution to societal unrest was a concerted effort by local, state, and university leadership to form plans to prevent or mitigate protests.
Another facet of the “ White backlash” was the plethora of conspiracy theories used to explain the protests of Blacks and students. Many leaders, such as J. Edgar Hoover of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and California governor Ronald Reagan, openly stated the student movement and the Black movement were directed by communists.1 Many others echoed their statements.2
By the mid-1960s the Black movement of the freedom riders and the theologically based passive resistance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was at a standstill. More militant factions battled for a leadership role in the Black march to equality. Various civil rights activists sought new tools were in the struggle against institutionalized racism.
Blacks utilized athletics as one of the most effective forums. Dr. Harry Edwards of San Jose State College in California, led national efforts, such as the proposed boycotts of the 1967 New York City Athletic Club’s track meet and the 1968 Olympic games. These incidents drew international attention to the struggle of the Black athlete and inspired many collegiate athletes to utilize the tools of walkouts and boycotts. The vivid image of the raised, black-gloved hands and bowed heads of Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the winners’ platforms in Mexico City lifted Black awareness and inflamed White passions.3
Many of the publicized 130 actions taken by Black college athletes in 1968 centered on issues of alienation and discrimination on predominantly White campuses.4 They protested against unsympathetic coaches, rules against “Afro” haircuts, lack of housing for Blacks, lack of jobs for athletes’ wives, policies against interracial dating, lack of Black coaches and cheerleaders, and indignities suffered on and off the field at the hands of bigoted fans, opposing players, and game officials. White fans and administrators perceived many of the Blacks’ complaints to be petty and inconsequential.
Beginning in the spring of 1968, a new dimension was added to the protests of the Black athlete. Blacks began a series of protests against the racial attitudes of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (LDS) as represented by Brigham Young University (BYU) in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC).5
The LDS (or Mormons) denied Blacks full membership. During Brigham Young’s tenure as head of the Church in the 19th century, Blacks, or anyone of “Negroid blood,” was prohibited from the priesthood.6 This dogma denied important aspects of worship to Blacks who chose to join the church.
Much national attention had been focused on Mormon theology in 1963 because of the presidential aspirations of George Romney, a Mormon.7 The exclusion of Blacks from the priesthood also hindered the LDS Church’s missionary efforts in emerging African nations.8 In the early 1960s Utah remained as the single state outside of the Deep South not to have any civil rights legislation.9 In spite of national attention, the scanty scriptural basis of the LDS stance, and pressure from within the church,10 Blacks were still excluded from the priesthood.
The Mormon Church’s attitude toward Blacks affected Brigham Young University and its mission within the church.11 Because of the limited number of Blacks attending BYU, the school was perceived as perpetuating segregation.12 BYU administrators, as late as 1969, discouraged Blacks from attending the Provo, Utah, school.13 Blacks around the WAC began to examine BYU and LDS Church policies. Because of the emphasis that BYU placed on its intercollegiate athletic programs, Black student groups and athletes strategically targeted intercollegiate athletic contests with BYU.
The first such protest against BYU occurred in April, 1969, by Black track team members from the University of Texas-El Paso (UTEP).14 The Black track team members refused to participate in a meet at Provo. The UTEP protest, resulting in the dismissal of eight Black athletes, gained national notoriety because the termination of the Black athletes and the racist atmosphere at UTEP were published as part of a five-part series on race and athletics written by Jack Olsen for Sports Illustrated.15 Subsequent opposition to BYU and LDS beliefs surfaced at San Jose State, the University of New Mexico, and Arizona State University.16 The next protest against BYU came in the fall of 1969 at the University of Wyoming.
Many factors united at the University of Wyoming to make it significant and pivotal in the Black struggle against the policies of the LDS Church and BYU. The University of Wyoming was the only four-year school in Wyoming, and thus, its athletic teams were the center of the state’s attention. Wyoming was also a neighboring state of Utah, with a sizable Mormon population of its own. Similar to many other schools in the WAC and around the country, Blacks had been brought into Wyoming to bolster the athletic programs.17 Wyoming Black athletes faced the same alienation and hostility as Blacks on predominantly White campuses around the country.
Also similar to other states was a conservative “law and order” state and university administration. Riding the coattails of the Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew rhetoric and White backlash, Governor Stanley Hathaway saw the Laramie campus as another state office over which he had control.18 Former University of Wyoming president William Carlson, like many other college administrators during this time, seemed to be out of his league when confronted with serious social problems. Carlson also had Republican ties,19 and was an ardent supporter of the athletic department. Both Hathaway and Carlson were determined that campus unrest not occur on the Laramie campus or elsewhere in the state.20
The Wyoming football team was talented, successful, and a source of pride to the “Equality State.” The team had won an unprecedented three consecutive WAC football championships and fans anticipated a fourth. During much of the decade, the Wyoming Cowboy football team was almost always among the nation’s leaders in defensive categories. Prior to the 1969 season, the team had gone to the Sun Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. The ardent Wyoming fans expected another major bowl bid. This seemed likely after the team won the first four games. Many Wyoming supporters envisioned an defeated season while the university made plans to expand War Memorial Stadium to accommodate increased fan support.21
Fourteen Black football players were key to the team’s success.22 The fourteen came from varied backgrounds. Sophomore safety Jerry Berry came to Wyoming from Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was majoring in statistics. Fullback Tony Gibson, a physical education major, hailed from the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. Split end John Griffin came to Wyoming from San Fernando, California. He was in his third year, also majoring in physical education. Lionel Grimes was a defensive halfback from Alliance, Ohio. A sophomore, he was majoring in business administration.
Offensive tackle Mel Hamilton was a junior physical education major from Boy’s Town, Nebr. Hamilton turned down a full scholarship to Cornell to follow a Boys’ Town friend to the University of Wyoming. He was a starting guard on Wyoming’s 1966 Sun Bowl team. In 1969, he had returned to UW after two years in the army. Ron Hill, a split end junior college transfer from Sterling, Colo., was a health education sophomore. Sophomore flanker philosophy major Willie Hysaw came to Laramie from Bakersfield, Calif. He had been the leading receiver on the freshman team the previous year.
Jim Issac was the sole Wyoming native of the fourteen Black football players. He was a sophomore physical education major from the mining town of Hanna.23 Earl Lee was also a physical education major. The offensive guard was a sophomore from Chattanooga, Tenn. Don Meadows, a business administration major from Denver, Colo., was a sophomore center.
Tony McGee was the best known of the fourteen Blacks. His quickness and speed earned him recognition as a high school athlete in Battle Creek, Mich. He had boxed cereal for Kellogg’s in the breakfast food capital before coming to Wyoming. His final choices for college were Michigan State, Nebraska, and Wyoming. He chose Wyoming, his 4.5 second speed in the 40-yard dash making him Wyoming’s fastest lineman.
Defensive back Ivie Moore from Pine Bluff, Ark., was in his junior year studying physical education. Joe Williams was another physical education major. The only senior among the fourteen Blacks, he was from Lufkin, Texas. He played tailback along with Ted Williams of Port Hueneme, Calif. Along with his White counterpart, Frosty “Freight Train” Franklin, they “could [have made] up the best set of running backs in the history of Wyoming football.”24 These Blacks, along with a talented group of Whites, created a potent WAC football power.
Many fans and boosters in Wyoming felt the team’s success was attributable to Head Football Coach Lloyd Eaton who had taken taken over head coaching duties when Bob Devaney left Wyoming to head the prestigious Cornhusker football program in neighboring Nebraska in 1962. Whatever might be said later about Lloyd Eaton as a coach and a person, there was no denying his team’s achievements. In 1966, his Cowboy team had gone 9-1 and defeated Florida State in the Sun Bowl. The 1967 the Cowboys had been unbeaten. They lost a close game in the Sugar Bowl to Louisiana State. By 1969, Eaton was among the national leaders in winning percentage. Along with three WAC championships, Eaton was named as WAC Coach of the Year in 1966 and 1967. People in Wyoming feared Eaton, because of his national recognition, might leave Laramie as his predecessor had done. In the early part of 1969, Eaton was reportedly “being considered” as a leading contender for the University of Pittsburgh head coaching job.25 Some observers speculated Eaton was granted a carte blanche with the football team by President Carlson and the Board of Trustees.26
Eaton, who had been Devaney’s defensive coach, was regarded as a strict disciplinarian in the mold of Woody Hayes of Ohio State and Frank Kush of Arizona State. Eaton believed team discipline to be a critical element in generating successful teams and quality athletes.27 He believed in the traditional, military-styled discipline of authoritarian athletics even as Blacks around the country rebelled against its constraints.28 Part of Eaton’s steps to establish discipline proved to be a key in the ensuing controversy. He forbade his players to be seen together in groups or to participate in any demonstration or protest. He reminded his players of this edict at every spring practice, and again in the fall. Just before the national Moratorium Day protests opposing United States involvement in Vietnam, on October 15, 1969, he reminded his players again.29 Despite the prevalent unrest in intercollegiate athletics, Eaton and the Wyoming programs saw no signs of turmoil.
When strife and confrontation did come to the Laramie campus, it not only touched issues of discipline and protest against BYU, it brought up the same charges of alienation and prejudice at the University of Wyoming and the town of Laramie. This echoed Black protest throughout the WAC. The fact there had been no protests to that date did not signify campus life in predominantly White Wyoming was without problems for Black athletes. At least one football player had left the University because the coach had pressured athletes to enroll in easier courses.30 Another player, one of the Cowboys’ fourteen Black football players, left school for two years of military service when Coach Eaton opposed his marriage to a White woman.31 Like other schools, Wyoming’s Black athletes were to charge that White players of lesser ability would play before more talented Black players. In addition, Blacks perceived they were pressured to play when injured.32
Flynn Robinson, a Wyoming basketball player who later played in the National Basketball Association, was rumored to have carried a gun to protect himself from the “cowboy element.”33 One incident, described by writer James Michener in Sports in America, occurred when the brothers of a White female student, befriended by a Black, tried to organize a “posse” to run the offending party out of Laramie.34 Black players endured racial slurs around the campus, in Laramie, and on the football field.35 Whatever grievances the Wyoming Blacks had were not publicly acknowledged as the team remained unbeaten and bowl-bound.
On Moratorium Day, October 15, 1969, the newly-formed Black Student Alliance of the University of Wyoming, led by Willie Black, a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics, delivered a letter to university officials. The letter referred to the racial policies of the LDS Church and BYU. Included was a suggestion that players and students protest against BYU during the game scheduled in Laramie on October 18, 1969. Coach Eaton warned his Black players separately of the team rule regarding such protests.
Despite their coach’s warning, the Black players met and decided they wanted to discuss with their coach what they felt to be a matter of conscience.36 On the snowy morning of October 17, 1969, they walked to the athletic complex. They were in street clothes and wore black armbands to show Coach Eaton how they might protest. The coach requested that the group be seated in the bleachers at the fieldhouse. In the presence of two assistant coaches, Eaton called the Blacks “rabble-rousers” who could no longer be supported by taxpayer money. He told them they could go back on “Negro relief.” Repeatedly he told the athletes to “shut up” and suggested that if they had not come to Wyoming, “they would be out on the streets hustling.”37 Eaton then revoked their scholarships and dismissed them from the team.
The calm of the Laramie campus vanished as the dismissals prompted a battery of meetings involving the university president, the governor, the trustees, Willie Black, and the athletes themselves.38 The governor, the trustees, and the president, after meeting until 2:30 a.m., allowed the Blacks to remain in school with the possibility of financial aid after the fall semester. This action did not please the Black athletes or some other campus groups.
The Student Senate was the first group to decry the arbitrary dismissals. In a vote of 17-1, it issued a statement condemning Eaton’s actions, calling for a forum to discuss the rights of athletes as students. The senate also threatened to withhold student money from the athletic department.
During the BYU game, pickets marched outside the stadium and the Black athletes were booed by the crowd when they took seats in the student section. During the game, a large Confederate flag was displayed by a student at the top of the bleacher area. While the under-manned Cowboy team pounded BYU 40-7, the crowd chanted cheers for Eaton, confirming observers’ feelings that Eaton was more popular than both President Carlson and Governor Hathaway.39
As a new week started on campus, there were few signs that anything had changed. Sunday’s open meeting of the Faculty Senate had resulted in a watered-down call for an ad hoc committee to investigate.40 Still, many students and faculty attended meetings and began petitions supporting the fourteen student-athletes and calling for a reversal of the dismissals. The groups disagreeing with the stance of the governor and the trustees focused on the issues of students’ rights, academic freedom, the power of the athletic department, and free expression.
As the student and faculty groups sought to challenge the dismissals, the demise of the Black athletes began to garner support around the WAC and around the country. The success of the football team and program guaranteed national exposure, evidenced by the arrival in Laramie of ABC, CBS, and NBC film crews.41 On October 23, 1969, President Carlson and Coach Eaton held a press conference and announced an immediate change in Eaton’s rule regarding protests. This policy change would not affect, however, the Blacks already dismissed. It was at this press conference that Sports Illustrated reported that President Carlson admitted that at Wyoming, football was more important than civil rights.42 After making the statement, President Carlson hastily ended the press conference.
Actions by Black and White groups around the WAC now focused on Wyoming as well as BYU. Students at San Jose State sought to boycott Wyoming’s Homecoming game the following Saturday. A team vote opted for participating in the game but all the players would wear multi-colored armbands protesting all racism and the dismissals of the Blacks at Wyoming.43 It was during this game that a small private plane flew over the stadium trailing a banner that read “Yeah Eaton.”44 Many in the crowd wore armbands bearing Eaton’s name.45
WAC Commissioner Wiles Hallock tried to save the embattled conference from disintegrating. WAC officials called a conference at the beginning of November in Denver. There, Hallock issued a statement raising the specter of a national Black conspiracy. Hallock, Coach Eaton, the NCAA, and administrators at Wyoming believed that Wyoming’s nationally respected program, Eaton’s policy of discipline, and the lack of previous racial disturbances had made Wyoming an obvious target.46
The WAC meetings adjourned when Black activists walked into the closed-door meetings wearing black armbands with the numerals “14” on them as tribute to the Wyoming Black athletes. These bands became a common sight around the WAC during contests with BYU and the University of Wyoming.
The issue of Blacks, the Mormon Church and BYU reached beyond the WAC when Stanford University announced that due to the LDS’s racial policy, it would no longer participate in any future intercollegiate events with BYU. President Kenneth S. Pitzer’s statement prompted further activism throughout the WAC to end competition with BYU despite efforts of the LDS Church and BYU apologists to defend their church and university.
At UTEP, activists passed out leaflets condemning BYU. Police were called to quell violence in the stands during the BYU-Arizona State (ASU) game.47 At Colorado State University (CSU), the Black Student Association presented the university president with a list of demands in support of Wyoming’s Black athletes.48 In Tucson, the University of Arizona student senate voiced support for the “Wyoming fourteen.” In Tempe, the ASU Black student group attacked both Lloyd Eaton and ASU’s football coach Frank Kush. Kush had supported Eaton’s action’s, as had Paul “Bear” Bryant at the University of Alabama.49 At the University of New Mexico (UNM), the student senate demanded disassociaton from BYU. The New Mexico Civil Liberties Union suggested that UNM withdraw from the WAC and called on school officials to pressure Wyoming to reverse its action.50 Prior to the New Mexico-Wyoming game in Albuquerque, on November 15, 1969, students demonstrated outside the stadium questioning whether the Wyoming Blacks had been “Lynched Again?”51 The CSU international student group passed a resolution supporting the reinstatement of the Wyoming athletes and condemning Mormon racial policy. At Utah State University, the Black student group demanded a student censure of BYU and a demonstration at the BYU-Utah State game.
Basketball season began with no let up in the protests. During the University of Arizona-BYU game in Tucson, on January 8, 1970, a “near riot” occurred when police fought with anti-BYU demonstrators.52 A wrestling competition was the scene of another anti-BYU protest at Colorado State College (now the University of Northern Colorado), in Greeley.
Later in the month, the CSU student government voted to end the school’s athletic relationship with BYU. At the beginning of February, the CSU-BYU basketball game in Fort Collins was disrupted when blacks marched onto the court. Police in riot gear clashed with the activists. A photographer from The Rocky Mountain News was struck unconscious and in need of stitches. Seven people were arrested.53 Two days later, at the Wyoming-BYU basketball game in Laramie, a strong police presence insured order.
At the end of February, the WAC basketball game between New Mexico and BYU in Albuquerque bred still more violence. Even prior to the game, bricks painted with “BYU” were thrown through the windows of homes occupied by university officials.54 The game was delayed 45 minutes after debris, including ballons filled with kerosene, was thrown onto the court.
By this point, the fourteen Wyoming Blacks, with the assistance of NAACP attorney William Waterman, and later the ACLU, filed a $1.1 million law suit against the University of Wyoming and Coach Eaton in U. S. District Court in Cheyenne. The suit was based on the 1st and 14th Amendments of the United States Constitution and the recent Supreme Court of the United States decision of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.55 This case permitted the wearing of black armbands in a secondary school setting as a protest against the Vietnam War.
The State of Wyoming’s Attorney General, representing Eaton and the university, claimed the fourteen Blacks were employees of the State of Wyoming, and a protest on the athletic field would have violated the State of Wyoming and the U. S. Constitutions’ demand for the separation of Church and State. Judge Ewing T. Kerr, the U. S. District Court judge, ruled in favor of the University of Wyoming. The decision was upheld on appeal and no move was made to pursue the case to the U. S. Supreme Court.56
As the litigation process took its course, schools around the West continued their demonstrations against BYU. Violence and disruption accompanied many of these protests. Contests with BYU necessitated additional security and sometimes even activation of National Guard units.57 The BYU protests also spread to the University of Washington campus in Seattle. There, more militant student groups occupied buildings, disrupted classes, and eventually led to a Seattle police presence on campus.58
At Wyoming, all but one of the fourteen Blacks gradually left campus. Like other schools in the WAC, the conference officials, school administrators, coaches, fans, and White players showed little sympathy or understanding of the Blacks’ protest of conscience. Although the ideological basis for the Black protests was common knowledge, the protests against BYU were seen as another senseless disruption by Blacks.
During the entire period of Black athletic protests, coaches, backed by administrators and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), were adamant in their support of tradition--a tradition of military discipline, patriotic displays, absolute control, and denial of individual rights accorded to other students. Little was done to address the plight of minority players.
At Wyoming, the adherence to the belief that the issue was one of “team discipline, not race,” was supported by the state’s media. National examination and criticism was seen as an unwarranted intrusion by outsiders who did not understand “the Cowboy way.” Many people in Wyoming at the time, and to the present, blame outside agitators. They ignore the prior press coverage of the issue of Black priesthood in the LDS Church. The incident on the Laramie campus was one in a series of protests against perceived LDS racism, not a single target of Black leadership. The charges of conspiracy and the emphasis on team discipline painted Black athletes as field hands who had become disruptive, sullen, and “uppity.” Unfortunately, many of these perceptions have continued in athletics.
In spite of the adversity the fourteen Blacks encountered, ten of the fourteen graduated from college. Four of them went on to professional football careers, including Tony McGee and Tony Gibson who played for the New England Patriots.
Coach Lloyd Eaton, the popular and successful coach, perceived by many in the state to be a man of principle, won only one game the following season. The man who was granted a carte blanche to keep him at Wyoming was abruptly promoted to a new position, away from the players, as assistant athletic director. He later joined a professional football scouting combine. The man who, at one time, was more popular than the Wyoming governor, retired to seclusion in Kuna, Idaho. Fritz Shurmur, Eaton’s defensive coach, was successful as a professional football defensive coach and wrote books on defensive football. Paul Roach, the backfield coach, moved on to a position at Wisconsin. Later, he returned to the Cowboy program as athletic director and head football coach.
The University of Wyoming football team took more than a decade before being able to recruit quality Black athletes and put together a winning season. Brigham Young University, despite the protests, became a dominant WAC power. The controversial policy of Black exclusion soon became a moot point. With increasing societal pressure and editorial attack, a revelation to the church’s president changed Mormon doctrine. On June 1, 1978, the priesthood could now go to all men without reference to color.
Now the events of fall, 1969, can be examined with a clarity that only time can give. The time that has elapsed should put an end to the ongoing recriminations bandied about as fact. Former participants claim prescience at each twist in the unfolding saga and ramble on with anecdotal tales of self-importance. Because no one recorded information about statements, meetings, actions, and threats, time has allowed for multiple distortions of the historic record. Documentation in official files is limited. Public records have been lost as individuals have retired, limiting an accurate assessment of the incident. It is surprising in an academic community no record or journal has come to light. Such records that were invaluable in documenting the 1964 events at the Berkeley protests are conspicuously absent in Laramie.
"Reagan Claims Chicago Violence Part of
Conspiracy,” Laramie Daily Boomerang, September 3, 1968. Reagan said a
nationwide conspiracy plotted the disturbances at the Chicago Democratic
Convention and at Berkeley. “This is a plot. There is a conspiratorial side to
it....I think we were up against a professional job.” On February 1, 1967, in
the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, J. Edgar Hoover attributed campus
unrest to “communist” W.E.B. DuBois Clubs and called Students for Democratic
Society (SDS) a “pro-Red Chinese” group.
“Cleveland Riot Said ‘Plotted’,” Casper Star-Tribune, July 25, 1968, 1.
Major General Sylvester T. Del Corso, in charge of the Ohio National Guard in
Cleveland, agreed with Major Carl B. Stokes that there had been FBI information
of a four-city plot. Del Corso was later involved in the Kent State University
shootings. Glen Willardson, “Who Leads Campus Revolts?” The Daily Universe,
May 2, 1969.
Dr. Harry Edwards was a former athlete. He was the author of Black Students
(1970), The Revolt of the Black Athlete (1970), and Sociology of Sport
(1973). He was vilified around the country as an agitator and troublemaker. He
was good friends with another famous “uppity Black,” National Basketball
Association’s perennial All-Star, Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics.
4 “The Angry Black Athlete,” Newsweek 72 (July 15, 1968), 57D. Jack Olsen, “In An Alien World,” Sports Illustrated 29 (July 15, 1968), 41. Jack Olsen, “A Shameful Story,” Sports Illustrated 29 (July 1, 1968), 17.
The Western Athletic Conference was formed from the Mountain States
Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, commonly known as the Skyline conference.
In 1969 the WAC consisted of the University of Utah, Utah State University, the
University of New Mexico, the University of Arizona, Arizona State University,
the University of Wyoming, Brigham Young University, Colorado State University,
and University of Texas-El Paso.
For more detail see Newell Bringhurst, “An Ambiguous Decision: The
Implementation of Mormon Priesthood Denial for the Black Man — A Reexamination.”
Utah Historical Quarterly 46 (Winter 1978), 45-64.
Jeff Nye, “Memo from a Mormon: In which a troubled young man raises the question
of his Church’s attitude toward Negroes,” Look, October 25, 1963, 75;
Time, October 18, 1963, 83.
At this time, the Nigerian government refused
resident visas to LDS missionaries from the United States because of the
church’s racial policy.
Ibid., 256. Black leaders from Utah and the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) threatened to picket the church’s
semi-annual conference in the fall of 1963 unless the church denounced
segregation. Time magazine commented that Mormons “are unsympathetic
toward the Negro.” Time, October 18, 1963, 83.
William J. Whalen, The Latter-day Saints in the Modern Day World. (Notre
Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1964), 255.
In 1951, Church president-designate Ernest Wilkinson espoused the need to use
BYU athletics to glorify the LDS Church and to “demonstrate the physical
superiority” of those of a single moral standard abstaining from alcohol and
tobacco. Gary James Bergera and Ronald Priddis, Brigham Young University: A
House of Faith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 276.
Only one Black per year matriculated at BYU until the 1970s. Until the late
1960s only four Blacks had ever graduated from BYU.
13 Gary James Bergera and Ronald Priddis, Brigham Young University: A House of Faith. (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 298. The authors describe a form letter sent to Black applicants informing them there were “no families of your race” around Provo. They were also issued a stern warning regarding the Church’s prohibition of interracial marriages and interracial dating.
14 Jack Olsen, “In An Alien World,” Sports Illustrated 29 (July 15, 1968), 30. UTEP was formerly called Texas Western. The school shared at track rivalry with San Jose State, the school of Dr. Harry Edwards, and Olympians Tommy Smith and John Carlos, leading some to speculate that an Edwards visit to UTEP prompted the boycott. Olsen minimizes Edwards’ role. Joseph Ray, On Becoming a University. (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1968), 89. The former president of UTEP merely states that the Blacks “developed an aversion” to competing against BYU.
One of the dismissed Blacks was Robert Beamon, Gold medal winner and
world-record setter in the long jump at the Mexico City 1968 Olympic games. His
record jump was not broken until Mike Powell set a new record jump on August 30,
16 Robert J. Johnson, “Writer Reviews Athletic Problems,” The Prospector (UTEP, El Paso), April 26, 1968, 7; Mike Elvitsky, “Blacks To Boycott?” Daily Spartan (SJS, San Jose), November 19, 1968, 1; John Robert Muir, “Council Says Cancel BYU Football Game,” Daily Spartan, November 21, 1968, 1; John Apgar, “SJS Demands Cancellation,” Daily Universe (BYU, Provo), November 27, 1968, 1; “Lobo Student Senate Severs BYU Relations,” The Coloradan (Fort Collins), April 6, 1969, 12; “New Mex. May Sever Relations With BYU,” Daily Universe, March 25, 1969, 3; Marcie Lynn Smith, “Senate Delays ‘explosive’ plea,” The Student Press (ASU, Tempe), September 26, 1969, 1; Don Podesta, “BYU boycott urged,” The State Press, October 2, 1969, 2; “ASU Demonstration Charges Racism,” The Daily Universe, October 6, 1969, 4.
17 The number of Blacks on the Laramie campus is difficult to determine. The newspaper accounts refer to 29 Black varsity athletes as “20 percent” of the Black student population. Other accounts employ the figure of 150 Blacks which merely proceeds in completing the logical arithmetical step. With the 1990-1991 Black student population set at 89, it would hardly seem logical that there would be 150 Blacks on campus in 1969. Deborah Hardy, Wyoming University (Laramie: University of Wyoming, 1986), 218, reports 33 Black male students and four Black women.
Stanley Hathaway, telephone interview with author, Cheyenne, Wyo., November 5,
The former chairman of the radiology department at the School of Veterinary
Medicine at Colorado State University, Carlson was recommended to the Wyoming
search committee by Wyoming U. S. Senator Clifford Hansen. There was a belief
that Carlson’s political ties with U. S. Senator Gordon Allott of Colorado would
serve Carlson well as a fund-raiser in Republican Wyoming. Presidential Files,
American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Hathaway was proud to be in control of a state in which the university had not
had the strife present on other state campuses. He agreed, as did many in the
state, with the anonymous faculty member quoted in Wyoming University, by
Dr. Hardy, p. 214, that “outside people could have a very bad effect on our
basically sound students.” During the summer of 1969, Hathaway sent President
Carlson newspaper articles detailing what other universities were doing to
prepare for the fall onslaught of campus radicalism. See Presidential Files,
American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming. Joseph Geraud, legal advisor
to the Board of Trustees, prepared materials, outlining campus procedures in the
event of campus disorders. These materials were presented to the Board of
Trustees of the University of Wyoming in October, 1968. “Minutes,” University of
Wyoming Board of Trustees, American Heritage Center, UW. Carlson was quoted as
saying, “If we have any trouble it will be brought in from outside by subversive
elements.” Robert Betts, “Wyoming Busy Learning, Not Demonstrating,” Laramie
Daily Boomerang, September 13, 1968, 22. The Wyoming press lauded Governor
Hathaway for his tough stance on “hippies” and unwanted elements coming into
Wyoming. Thomas Hough, “File of Anti-Hippie Letters Keeps Pace With Those of
Pacifist Side,” Laramie Daily Boomerang, July 6, 1968, 15. “The
reputation for firmness in dealing with disorders is the best insurance against
a situation getting out of hand.” Editorial, “Riot Insurance,” Casper
Star-Tribune, July 12, 1968, 4.
“UW Stadium to Expand by Fall of ’70,” Casper Star-Tribune, October 14,
22 Jerry Berry, Tony Gibson, John Griffin, Lionel Grimes, Mel Hamilton, Ron Hill, Willie Hysaw, Jim Isaac, Earl Lee, Don Meadows, Tony McGee, Ivie Moore, Ted Williams, and Joe Williams.
23 Another Black from Hanna, Wyoming was Marquette Frye. In 1957, the Frye family had moved to Los Angeles because of a down-turn in the Wyoming coal mining industry. Marquette gained attention as one of two Blacks harassed by the Los Angeles Police. The attempted arrest of Frye was seen as the trigger of the 1965 Watts riots. Robert Conot, Rivers of Blood, Years of Darkness. (New York, Bantam Books, 1967), 3-29.
Doug Reeves, “From the Sidelines . . .”, Laramie Daily Boomerang, October
25 “Pitt Considering Wyoming Grid Coach Lloyd Eaton,” The Rocky Mountain News (Denver), January 20, 1969, 62; “Eaton ‘Quietly’ Visits Pittsburgh Campus,” The Rocky Mountain News (Denver), January 22, 1969, 56. The Wyoming papers did not report this story.
Deborah Hardy, Wyoming University (Laramie: University of Wyoming, 1985),
218; Tony McGee, interview with author, Centerville, Va., November 12, 1990.
Hakeem Wilson, interview with author, Cambridge, Mass., November 5, 1990; McGee
interview; William Young, former Director of Sports Information, University of
Wyoming, interview with author, Laramie, March 26, 1991. According to Paul
Roach, Eaton’s offensive backfield coach and former head football coach and
athletic director, “Lloyd is a taskmaster, a fundamentalist and a strong man.”
“UW Assistant Coach Receives Other Offer,” Laramie Daily Boomerang,
January 3, 1970.
John Underwood, “The Desperate Coach,” Sports Illustrated 31 (September
8, 1969), 37.
Carl Skiff, “Showdown at Laramie,” Empire Magazine of the Denver Post,
November 2, 1969, 30; Steve Luhm, “A Decade Ago: Dissention, Drama and Decision
at Wyoming,” Laramie Daily Boomerang, October 20, 1979, 1.
Hakeem Wilson, interview with author, Cambridge, Mass., November 5, 1990.
Melvin Hamilton, interview with author, Casper, Wyo., December 8, 1990; “Mel’s
Not Rusty Now Despite That Layoff,” Wyoming State Tribune (Cheyenne),
October 8, 1969, 30. Hamilton intended to go to Colorado State University (CSU),
but he did not because he would have lost credits, and he said he had had a
“taste of success” in the Wyoming program.
Tony McGee interview. Also reported in many newspaper accounts after “the
33 Hakeem Wilson interview.
James A. Michener, Sports in America. (New York: Random House, 1976),
Deborah Hardy, Wyoming University: The First Hundred Years, 1886-1986.
(Laramie: University of Wyoming, 1986), 218; Hakeem Wilson interview; Tony McGee
Tony McGee interview.
Melvin Hamilton interview; Tony McGee interview. Also, newspaper accounts at the
time and reports of court testimony.
Also present was BSA faculty adviser Roger Daniels, a history professor , who
had been the first to notify Carlson of the situation. Joseph Geraud, former
legal adviser to President Carlson, interview with author, Laramie, February 14,
1991; William Young interview; Willie Black, interview with author, Chicago,
Illinois, April 4, 1991; Stanley Hathaway, former governor of Wyoming, telephone
interview with author, Cheyenne, November 5, 1990.
Pat Putnam, “No Defeats, Loads of Trouble,” Sports Illustrated, (November
3, 1969), 27.
Ibid. “Faculty Senate Seeks Query,” Laramie Daily Boomerang,
October 21, 1969. See also Presidential Files, University of Wyoming, American
Articles in student papers and major dailies including Christian Science
Monitor, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle,
Seattle Times, Washington Post, and The Sporting News.
Pat Putnam, “No Defeats, Loads of Trouble,” Sports Illustrated, (November
3, 1969), 27.
Many newspaper accounts and a photograph appeared in Life magazine,
“Armbands Against Wyoming,” November 14, 1969, 27.
44 Dr. James Hook, education professor at the University of Wyoming, interview with author, Laramie, March 14, 1991. Also, newspaper accounts, including “Cowboy Homecoming Has Pro-Eaton Air,” Casper Star-Tribune, October 26, 1969.
Pat Putnam, “No Defeats, Loads of Trouble,” Sports Illustrated, (November
3, 1969), 27; Joseph Geraud interview; Stan Hathaway interview; The NCAA NEWS,
(December 1969), 2-3.
“Black student group will boycott game,” The Prospector (UTEP, El Paso),
October 24, 1969, 1; Robert Zuck, “Violence Mars Football Game,” The
Prospector, October 28, 1969, 1.
“CSU Students Demand Support For Poke Blacks,” The Rocky Mountain News
(Denver), October 22, 1969, 47.
“ASUA supports Wyoming 14,” The Prospector, November 4, 1969, 2.
“New Mexico Lobos Asked to Study Withdrawal From WAC by UMCLU,” Laramie Daily
Boomerang, October 22, 1969, 8.
Branding Iron, (University of Wyoming, Laramie), November 21, 1969.
“U of A campus simmers weeks after near riot,” The State Press (ASU,
Tempe), February 10, 1970, 1.
“Halftime Protest Erupts; Seven People Arrested,” CSU Collegian (CSU,
Fort Collins), February 6, 1970, 1.
“Flying Bricks Heighten Tension On Eve of UNM-BYU Court Battle,” Laramie
Daily Boomerang, February 28, 1970, 11; Calvin Horn, The University in
Turmoil and Transition: Crises Decades at the University of New Mexico
(Albuquerque: Rocky Mountain Publishing, 1981), 35.
89 S. Ct. 733, 1969.
Williams v. Eaton, 310 F. Supp. 1342 (1970). “Gridders’ Names Are Off UW
Suit,” Laramie Daily Boomerang, June 24, 1970, 9; “Oral Arguments Set In
‘Black 14’ Case,” Laramie Daily Boomerang, May 16, 1972, 7; Melvin
Such was the case in Laramie in its basketball game with BYU. The National
Guard also was brought into Laramie before the football game in October.
58 “BYU Petition,” The Daily (University of Washington, Seattle), February 4, 1970, 1.
Clifford Bullock holds the MA degree in history from the University of Wyoming. This article is extracted from his master's thesis, an in-depth study of the incident. He now lives and works in New England.