ALL LOVE: After being written out of history, Syracuse 8’s forgiveness defines them

first_imgFifty years ago, nine SU football players boycotted spring practices because their demands for equitable treatment weren’t being met by the athletic department and head coach Ben Schwartzwalder. This the final installment of a three-part series tells the stories of the following scholar athletes who risked their futures for what was right: Dana Harrell, John Lobon, Richard Bulls, Duane Walker, John Godbolt, Ron Womack, Clarence McGill, Greg Allen and Alif Muhammad.Dana Harrell’s voice cracked as he addressed a rise of hatred in his alma mater’s community. At that point, Syracuse had been hit with six reported hate incidents in nine days. Seven more were reported in the next five days, including five more that evening, on Nov. 16.Students have protested Syracuse University’s response to what grew to be at least 32 hate incidents on and around campus. Harrell, though, was “proud” of SU for wrestling with the issue of racism.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“Syracuse University does not condone racism,” Harrell said. “They do not condone it. They do not ignore racism.”Fifty years ago, it was Harrell who was provoked by his white teammates wielding a garden hose in a racist altercation, who had to change his natural position because quarterback was deemed a “thinking position,” who filed multiple complaints against head coach Ben Schwartzwalder to the Onondaga County Human Rights Commission.What hurt possibly even more than any injustice the Syracuse 8 collectively experienced was the feeling of being “written out of history” for more than three decades, they said. It took 35 years for the university “to hear our side of the story,” Alif Muhammad said.Harrell sees SU as a microcosm of the United States; its problems weren’t — and aren’t — unique. For everything Syracuse took from Harrell in 1970, he believes it gave him just as much: Two degrees, a wife and unbreakable bonds with the teammates he boycotted alongside.Though SU did not properly recognize the Syracuse 8 until 2006, Harrell and the other members “bleed orange” as much as any alumni. Many of them wear Syracuse gear and root for the Orange, send their children or grandchildren to SU and are still involved with the university.“It is a contradiction,” said Clarence McGill, who for years planned on never returning to campus. “But what happened here was a reality that all of us wouldn’t have been successful without that scholarship that was given to us by Ben Schwartzwalder.”,In 2005, at the triennial Coming Back Together reunion for Black and Latino alumni, some Syracuse 8 members led a workshop and retold their story. In attendance was Hall of Famer and former Syracuse football star Art Monk, who graduated in 1980. He’d never heard of the Syracuse 8.“So, when we told the story then, and hearing Art say that he didn’t know that happened here, that tells you exactly what occurred,” John Lobon said. “Nobody knew what happened because that’s how far it got buried.”The reunion was the first step in uncovering their previously hidden history. Nancy Cantor, then the university’s chancellor, attended the reunion that year and had previously read about the Syracuse 8. She said then that SU should find a way to apologize.One year later, it did. Every member of the Syracuse 8, except John Godbolt, walked onto the Carrier Dome turf at halftime of a late October game and received their letterman jacket for the first time. Cantor presented them a formal apology and the Chancellor’s Medal — the university’s highest honor. Jim Brown spoke, calling it “one of the greatest nights I have been involved in.”“It was a beautiful experience,” Ron Womack said. “I will never forget that. It helped mend some of the pain. It almost was like we felt validated, that we did belong to Syracuse … We went from troublemakers to heroes.”The university’s apology healed the scars left by the “hurtful chapter” of their boycott and SU’s subsequent neglect, Womack said. To this day, Womack wears his graduation ring, which has a picture of a football player on one side and his major, education, on the other. He shows it off to his students in Minnesota while passing on the lessons of the 1970 boycott.So, when we told the story then, and hearing Art say that he didn’t know that happened here, that tells you exactly what occurred. Nobody knew what happened because that’s how far it got buried.John Lobon, Syracuse 8 member`Since 2006, the Syracuse 8 has been chronicled in David Marc’s book “Leveling the Playing Field: The Story of the Syracuse 8,” published by Syracuse University Press, in SU’s 150th anniversary book “Forever Orange” and in a Carrier Dome display.The Syracuse 8 view their boycott as a renaissance, a return to SU’s founders’ mission of inclusion and opportunity for all, and they’re still trying to make SU better. In 2011, the Syracuse 8 started and endowed a scholarship fund for first-year Black or Latino students who’ve exhibited leadership skills and participated in community service during high school.They consider their 1970 boycott a “catalyst” for social justice initiatives and increased diversity in the student body, administration and faculty, Greg Allen said. In fall 2020, they’ll be honored once again for the 50th anniversary at the 13th Coming Back Together. As of now, the reunion is still on despite the spread of COVID-19, and the Syracuse 8 will host a panel to retell their story.,“Man, I love Syracuse,” Muhammad said. “The boycott was something we felt we had to do what was right to try to make things better. But we love Syracuse.”Eight of the nine boycotters graduated from SU, and four went on to earn master’s degrees. Allen serves on the Board of Visitors of Syracuse’s School of Education and wants his granddaughter to attend SU — as does Lobon. Womack completed the coursework for a Syracuse Ph.D. but never finished his dissertation, and Harrell went to SU’s law school.As Harrell’s children grew up, they’d get irritated with him because he’d bring them to Syracuse’s campus so frequently — you can only see Marshall Street and the Carrier Dome so many times. Even before Harrell fielded questions about his time at Syracuse, he strategically asked when this series would run, fearing a story might distract the team from spring practice or the upcoming season.“I am so committed to Syracuse. I just want to make sure everything’s positive for this team,” he said on Aug. 14.They love a program that, for decades, wanted nothing to do with them. They give back to the school that stole their opportunities, college experiences and freedom. They became scholars when institutional racism took away their athletic careers.For as much of their story is one of sacrifice, it’s also one of forgiveness.In memory of Duane Walker (1949-2010), John Godbolt (1949-2012), and Richard Bulls (1951-2010).Cover photo illustration by Talia Trackim | Presentation DirectorPhotos courtesy of Syracuse 8 Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries Published on April 26, 2020 at 9:06 pm Contact Danny: dremerma@syr.edu | @DannyEmerman,Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment. Commentslast_img

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