THOMASVILLE — The story of integration and the role football played made it to the big screen Friday night.
Bad weather pushed the documentary’s debut back to May 31 at the Ritz Amphitheater from its original date. The story had been a long time in coming, according to Randy Young. The documentary was the result of Young’s collaboration with Austin Reams of CNS.
“The topic of integration of our schools has come up many times over the years,” he said. “Time does not stop or stand still for any of us. Several years ago, I told Austin it would be a travesty if we didn’t try to get some of the cornerstones of the community together to go over what had happened here.”
The documentary is told through the spectrum of how high school football helped ease the way for school desegregation, and Reams and Young had four coaches — Thomasville’s Jim Hughes, Andy Jones, Charlie Ward Sr. and Frank “Poppa D” Delaney Jr. of Thomas County Central, along with separate interviews with Coach James Bryant’s widow Jacqueline — on how they handled bringing black and white students and athletes together.
Young, who lived in Jacksonville, Florida, during integration there before his family moved to Thomas County, was struck by how little acrimony there was then.
“I never experienced black and white,” he said. “All I experienced was blue and gold”.
Hughes, who led an integrated Thomasville to a state and national championship with Bryant as his assistant, said at the time they didn’t think about making history.
“I think on a day-to-day basis, it’s all about doing your job,” he said, “whether it’s in athletics or in the classroom, so there’s much going on, you might not see the forest for the trees.”
Classroom teachers, Hughes said, shouldered much of the load.
“The classroom teachers had to bear the brunt of it,” he said. “And the teenagers had to buy into it. If the teachers don’t work the system and if the teenagers don’t buy into it and get to a point where we could say to each other, ‘I love you.’ When we got to that point, we knew a lot of the battles were long since over.”
Hughes pointed to an event that honored Thomasville star — and later NFL star — running back William Andrews. The 100 Percent Wrong Club, made up of Atlanta-area African-American men, chose Andrews for an honor. He was required to bring a white teammate to the awards banquet, and Andrews chose Mike Gammons.
“That was purely William’s business,” Hughes said, “but I thought it was a great way for that organization to honor what we had been trying to do.”
Delaney said the work that went into making Thomasville and Thomas County schools desegregation a much easier process than in other communities needs to continue.
“It’s a daily process. We can’t stop,” he said. “We have to love one another, because it’s the right thing to do. We knew we had to work for this community. We had to work for the students. We had to work for each other. We still have to do that today. We don’t have it made yet. We’re in the process. But we need your help.”
Jacqueline Bryant said she hoped Young and Reams would continue exporting the topic with future documentaries.
“There are so many stories, so many experiences that we don’t even know about,” she said.
Editor Pat Donahue can be reached at (229) 226-2400 ext. 1806.