Learning to Win: Sports, Education, and Social Change in Twentieth-Century North Carolina

By Pamela Grundy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
A Special Type of Discipline
Manhood and Community in African
American Institutions, 1923–1957

Amid the mountains outside Charleston, West Virginia, in the mid1940s, North Carolina College basketball coach John B. McLendon Jr. found himself facing an angry young white man and a potentially explosive situation. McLendon and his team had boarded the bus after a game with West Virginia State and discovered only one seat open. Under the protocols of segregation, white riders had filled the front of the bus, and black riders had gone to the back. The lone empty place sat right on the dividing line, next to a young white woman with a baby in her arms. After a quick conference the team concluded that center Henry Thomas needed the most rest and should sit down. Thomas asked the woman if he could sit next to her, and she said she did not mind. The bus driver, however, had a different view. “I can see him now,” McLendon recounted. “He looked up in the mirror, and he saw Henry Thomas sitting beside this girl. So he came back. And on the way back, I said to the players—they were all lined up, hanging on—I said, ‘Don't forget, now, I'll do the talking.’” 1

The bus driver ordered Thomas to get up. McLendon refused. “He's inside the law,” he argued. “The law says we seat from the back, they seat from the front. It's the last seat on the bus, and he can sit in it if he wants to.” The woman next to Thomas repeated that it was fine with her, which in McLendon's words “burned the bus driver up.” The driver went back to the front of the bus, sat for a minute, and then returned and repeated his demand that Thomas leave the seat. As McLendon and the driver stared at each other, the other passengers became restless. “Go sit down and drive the bus,” McLendon recalled them saying. “Come on bus driver, we've got to get where we're going.” “Get on, and let's get out of here.” “Drive the bus.” As the complaints mounted, the driver turned away, went back to his seat and started the engine. But when the bus got

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