When I was growing up in Davidson in the 1950s, the town, schools, and college were completely racially segregated.
This applied to the football field and stadium as well. We went to all the games (where Davidson was usually badly beaten, being a small Division I school with high academic standards and playing much larger Southern Conference schools).
I was in elementary school and of course knew almost nothing of politics or even of the implications of Brown vs. Board of Education. But I did notice that all the African-American fans sat in a segregated set of bleachers across from the white Davidson fans, and adjacent to the “away team” fans.
When the national anthem played we all, white and black, stood up and turned to the flag as a sign of respect. However, there was a difference when the band – sometime in the course of the game – played Dixie. All the white fans stood up and sang raucously. I think from an early age I knew it was kind of a joke, but at that time I didn’t know it was a bad joke. Still, my memory is that looking across the field I did notice that no one in the “black stand” stood up, and I kind of understood why. No one told me, I just knew.
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Fast forward to the 1960s and l970s when things began to change. My father, Grier Martin, who was president of the college at the time, integrated the school by inviting two African students to attend in the early ’60s. Soon after, black athletes began arriving at Davidson, primarily basketball players recruited by the then coach, Lefty Driesell. He attempted to recruit Charlie Scott, but was turned down after Charlie was turned away from being served at a lunch counter in Davidson. Charlie went on to be the first black athlete to receive a basketball scholarship to UNC and to become a two-time All American.
Fast forward again, and you have Stephen Curry who took Davidson to the Elite Eight. I doubt Steph Curry even knew that Davidson had once had segregated stands. But I am sure that he would understand full well about not standing up for Dixie.
While the nation grapples to understand the concept of “taking a knee,” we should remember that once upon a time not so very long ago, at Davidson people routinely stood up for Dixie, and black people silently protested. Times change and progress comes in fits and starts. Visual symbols and quiet protests still have meaning and foster that change.
Howell, a native of Davidson, lives in Washington, D.C. Email: email@example.com.