Honoring a true hero

Yesterday the Maryland General Assembly honored a true Maryland hero: Darryl Hill, the first African-American to play football for the University of Maryland and integrate the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Speaker Michael Busch rightly compared Hill to Jackie Robinson.

I had the honor of interviewing Darryl Hill several years ago for graduate school research project on the integration of the Washington Redskins.  Hill, a native of Washington, D.C., integrated Maryland football and the ACC a year after NFL Hall of Fame running back Bobby Mitchell became the first African-American on the Redskins roster. One Washington newspaper at the time called Hill “Maryland’s Bobby Mitchell.”

Redskins’ owner George Preston Marshall, a notorious racist, had resisted the Kennedy administration’s efforts to use its jurisdiction over D.C. Stadium — later to be named RFK Stadium — to force Marshall to integrate.  You can read that story here.

Hill’s experiences as the first African-American player in the ACC were not easy.  He endured unrelenting racist taunts from opposing fans.  A riot nearly broke out at South Carolina when Hill tried to take the field because the Gamecocks refused to play a game against a team that featured an African-American player.  When Maryland traveled to play Clemson, the Tigers also threatened not to play an integrated team.  Hill’s mother, who had travelled to South Carolina watch the game, was refused entrance to the stadium until Clemson president Robert C. Edwards invited her to watch the game from his box.

Perhaps the most remarkable story Hill told me was about a game at Wake Forest.  Prior to the game, Wake Forest fans mercilessly taunted him, Hill told me.  Then a Wake Forest’s running back approached him, put his arm around Hill, apologized for the fans racist taunting.  That running back was Brian Piccolo, who was immortalized in the classic television movie Brian’s Song.

Hill was too modest about what his legacy at Maryland really is.

If I hadn’t of done it somebody would have. The only thing I think that I probably feel fairly well about is that if I had faltered or failed in some way or something had gone awry or I had quit in the middle of it, it may have delayed the process by some period of time. So it was sort of a test case. Sort of like Jackie Robinson, they waited to see what would happen with him before they brought in Black number two. That would have happened. So from that point of view I was glad you know that it went as planned and it didn’t slow down the process. Aside from that I don’t think it was, well I can’t say it was insignificant but certainly not dwelling on it.

I asked Hill if all the negative experiences he endured were worth it.  “Definitely worth it,” he said.

The word hero is often over used and applied to those who don’t deserve it. 

Not in this case.  Darryl Hill is a hero. 

--Mark Newgent has contributed commentary to The Washington Examiner and National Review Online, and he is an frequent guest on WBAL Radio. His posts appear here regularly via Red Maryland, which has strived to be the premier blog and radio network of conservative and Republican politics and ideas in the free state since 2007.

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