Elgin Baylor and West Virginia
Legendary basketball player Elgin Baylor died on Monday. Not mentioned in the Associated Press’ various articles about his career was an incident that occurred in Charleston, West Virginia on January 16, 1959. Here is how Mike Whiteford, citing Baylor, described it in 2019 in the Charleston Gazette-Mail:
THE clerk behind the front desk glanced at the Minneapolis Lakers basketball players standing in the Kanawha Hotel lobby. “The three colored boys will have to go somewhere else,’’ he said. “This is a nice, respectable hotel. We can’t take the colored boys.’’
The “colored boys’’ included 6-foot-5 Elgin Baylor, the NBA’s best rookie, a basketball icon in the making, a Julius Erving-Michael Jordan prototype and a man not to be dissed. It was Jan. 16, 1959, and the Deep South still clung tightly to racial discrimination. Border states like West Virginia had desegregated most of their schools and some lunch counters, but little else.
The hotel’s racist policy outraged Hot Rod Hundley, a Charleston native, a second-year Laker and, suddenly, a civil rights activist. Hearing the desk clerk malign three of his teammates, he couldn’t hold back.
“You listen to me! You know who this is?’’ he said, pointing to Baylor. “Now find us some rooms! All of us!’’
. . . . Baylor not only had earned Hundley’s respect but, a few years later, would earn the respect of another prominent West Virginian. “My best teacher was Baylor,’’ said Jerry West, a longtime teammate. “I owe him so much.’’
Baylor and his two African-American teammates stayed at Edna’s Tourist Hotel. That wasn't all:
In addition to being denied hotel service, Baylor and his two black teammates, Boo Ellis and Ed Fleming, were denied restaurant service, prompting Baylor to visit a grocery store.
This is an excellent article about Baylor, discrimination, and racial equality in West Virginia in 1959.
Fast-forward to March 2021
Here is reporter Phil Kabler in Sunday’s Charleston Gazette-Mail:
During a virtual public hearing on the bill last week, speaker after speaker explained how abhorrent Confederate monuments are to the African American community; how they were erected in the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras not to honor the war dead but to exalt white supremacy and intimidate the Black population; and how West Virginia’s embrace of a law essentially making their removal illegal (while also prohibiting the renaming of schools, buildings, and public places named for Confederates) will perpetuate stereotypes of the state as being backward and racist.
Though their points were strong and valid, it won’t make a difference as far as the Legislature is concerned.
Kabler goes on to point out that only one legislator attended the hearing and the House advanced the bill protecting Confederate statutes.
Have things changed in West Virginia?
Yes. Today, Baylor and his two African American teammates would be able to stay with the rest of the team.
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