Roy Goines Broke MU Football Color Barrier

On Friday, September 29, Marshall University will mark a significant 50th anniversary. The Thundering Herd, who began playing football in 1895, was like many schools south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The Marshall campus, and its sports team, were made up of students who were all white. But at Fairfield Stadium 50 years ago Friday, the first African-American player in MU history took the field.

Roy Goines was that player and he had joined Marshall as a freshman in 1955, playing junior varsity ball with three other black players. But only Goines was with the varsity in 1956, when the then Marshall College (University-1961) opened the season at Xavier in Cincinnati, Ohio. Even bigger, however, would have been the first home game at Fairfield, Marshall's home stadium from 1928-1990. No African-American had ever worn the Green and White for Marshall until Goines took the field versus long-time Marshall rival Morris Harvey for a significant game on September 29, 1956. Marshall had never played against any black players at home, until the joined the Mid-American Conference in 1953. The league mandated that Marshall allow blacks to participate in games, breaking a "Gentleman's Agreement" among many southern schools who asked opponents not to play black players on the road at their school.

Marshall's Roy Goines, shown in his uniform from the 1958 Marshall yearbook, was the first African-American to play football for the Thundering Herd.

Goines joined the Herd junior varsity freshman football team in 1955 out of Douglas High School in Huntington. The Wildcats played games at Fairfield Stadium usually on Thursday nights, before Marshall, Huntington High School and Huntington East High School would play there on Friday's and Saturdays. Douglas, of course, played only against other black high schools of the era, like Garnett in Charleston and Straton in Beckley. Goines joined the Herd in 1955, just one year after Wildcat teammate Hal Greer had been recruited to Marshall to play basketball by Cam Henderson. Greer broke the color line in the state of West Virginia for all colleges who had before been limited to only white undergraduates. He and Goines had been teammates at Douglas in basketball and baseball. In 1956 for head football coach Herb Royer, Goines was the only one of four African-Americans from the JV squad that became a player for the varsity. Those other players on that 1955 JV team were Ray Crisp, Sr. (who sent three sons to play for the Herd in the 1970s), Howard Barrett and Walter West, also from Douglas.

Goines was an outstanding player and student-athlete for Marshall, who lettered in football for three seasons. He is retired these days in California, after serving in the U.S. Army and working for years with the Ford Motor Company as a Human Resource Director at various plants including two stints at corporate in Detroit, Michigan He is an adjunct professor at the University of Laverne in San Diemas, California, where he lives with his wife, and is a member of Marshall University's Black Legends, an organization for recognizing great African-American players at MU, the Marshall Black Alumni and MU Alumni Association.

How did this significant moment in Marshall's athletic history go unnoticed for all of these years? It would seem in Huntington, unlike some of the ugly scenes in other Southern states during the desegregation period of the mid-1950s throughout the mid-1970s, it was quietly accomplished by a Jackie Robinson-like figure as far as black athletes in the Tri-State in that era. "I had a little different background than many blacks of that era," said Goines. "We were one of two black families in Barboursville (a suburb of Huntington) and I grew up playing sports with white kids. Jimmy Maddox, Paul Adams and Bill Curry, we would play together in all sports all summer. Then in the fall, I would be bused to Douglas, the only black school in the area." Douglas was for grades 7-through-12, yet the school had only about 350 students at its peak, reflecting the Tri-State area's still small percentage of people of color.

That same Jim Maddox would go onto become the Marshall quarterback in 1957, after graduating from Barboursville High School and spending one year at the University of Dayton. But when asked how Marshall was able to add African-American players to what had been a white-only team without much fanfare, Goines, Maddox, former Huntington Herald-Dispatch sports editor Ernie Salvatore and the late Royer all came back with the same words, at different times over the last five years since research into Marshall's past led to the discovery of Goines achievement. "It wasn't a big deal because we didn't make it a big deal." Words to that effect came out of the mouths of each of these individuals, but seem incredulous when news films of that era show firehoses being turned on crowds of blacks in other Southern states, along with reports of lynchings, Klu Klux Klan and National Guard clashes on various campuses and in towns and other ugly incidents that birthed a new America that continues to struggle with race relations.

Salvatore remembered the newspaper didn't play up the fact that black players were part of the Marshall program. Royer said he wanted the best football players he could find, and some of them in the state of West Virginia were at black high schools like Douglas in Huntington, Garnett in Charleston and Straton in Beckley. "Roy was such a good guy," said Maddox of his longtime friend and former teammate. "Coach Royer was such a gentleman. The attitude was it didn't matter who you were, what mattered was what you could do to help the team. Roy, that guy could play!" Goines backs up those statements. "We lived in Barboursville until my junior year, then moved to Huntington. I played sandlot, youth sports with the white kids in the neighborhood. When I got to Marshall, it was not strange to play with the whites I knew as kids, like Jim. It was not a strain to integrate."

A "Who's Who's" student at Marshall, Goines made the Dean's List and was second in command of the Marshall ROTC, also a first for African-Americans at Marshall. Goines said football was probably the easiest part of that transition period. "There was no social life for blacks on the campus. There were only about 12 blacks among 4,000 students at Marshall College at that time. Our social life was in the black community and with our families. My mother, my father, grandfather and grandmother, other relatives. Howard Sorrell (who the Marshall University Buildings and Grounds facility is named after) was my uncle and did work on campus. We had a comfort circle in Huntington." That's not to say that Goines didn't develop some good friends among the other players on the team. "But I had some very good friends on the Marshall campus. Marshall Director of Athletics Kayo Marcum and I were teammates in 1955. Olen Jones (now Dr. Olen Jones, President of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine), another white teammate, was my best friend on campus and we double-dated with the girls who became our wive. Bill Zban, our quarterback for the first game I played in, was another good friend."

Goines also had some outstanding mentors in Huntington's black and white communities. "Dr. (J. Frank) Bartlett, the Dean of the Arts and Sciences in the 1950s, we had a good relationship. He called me in to his office my freshman year, after I made the Dean's List my first semester. I kind of crippled me to be called to the Dean's office and I'm scared to death. "He said, 'Young man, let's sit down and talk,' Goines remembered. ‘I want you to drop in and let me know how things are going from time to time.' By the time I graduated, he was my buddy and actually gave me my diploma when I crossed the stage at graduation." Dr. Stewart H. Smith, the Marshall president from 1946-68, also made an impression with Goines. "Dr. Smith actually came to my house in Huntington to celebrate at a party for my parents. That was big, having the college president come to our section of town and interact with my family and friends. He was very comfortable and made us all feel very comfortable."

Although Goines and Greer were among the first African-American undergraduate students on the then Marshall College campus, black graduate students had been taking classes and earning Masters for some time. One of those was Joe Slash, who was a Goines' mentor and football coach at Douglas. "Joe was very proud of his Masters from Marshall. He got it long before Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954." Goines has an idea how African-Americans might have been allowed to pursue those graduate degree, prior to the 1954 Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education. "I think Dr. Smith was responsible for allowing black students into the graduate program before it became law, knowing his attitude and comfort level."

Not that everything was smooth for a black person in Huntington in the 1950s. "We couldn't eat in certain restaurants. I wouldn't have dared to go into Jim's Spaghetti House. We always had a place in town to go eat after game, though, and I never had any problems at any of them, because I was Roy Goines, the football player. Even if I went alone." Goines was a bit limited for entertainment as well. "The only theater in downtown we could watch movies in was The Orpheum, and we had to pay at a separate side entrance and watch from only the balcony." As far as mixing into a team of players who were just beginning to compete against black student-athletes as members of the MAC, Goines said only one incident really stuck out. "I even had a teammate yell in the locker room one time, ‘I had a big nigger across from me today and, boy, was he mean,' speaking of Kent State's Luke Owens, who later played for the St. Louis Cardinals. Another teammate yelled at this player, ‘Hey, shut up, Roy's right here,' and he was sorry instantly. I would seek Luke out after games, and the other blacks we played against, but I never had any troubles on the field, though maybe because most of our games were in the MAC and in the north."

Goines said he ran into some of the subtle undertones of being black that were not overtly racial. "About the only real problem I had with racism I found my senior year. Coach Royer told me he thought with the Dean's List and the ROTC on top of football, asking me to be captain might be too much. Then, the ROTC told me that with football and the Dean's List, being commander of the ROTC might be too much for me. They really sugarcoated it and played off each other. I knew what was going on, but I was getting an education that was not costing me a penny. I was big in our community, and with kids, and just made it part of my business. I was the first black student-athlete to graduate from Marshall in 1960, after I changed my major from premed to business administration. I later got my Masters. That was unheard of."

Goines was the only one of that first group of four to make the varsity in 1956, and paved the way for many, many African-Americans to come in the Thundering Herd football program. Marshall elected its first black captain just four years later, in 1960, when Wilson Lathan made the jump. The first class of the Marshall Athletic Hall of Fame included Marshall quarterback Reggie Oliver, the first black varsity quarterback for the Herd in 1971, ahead of some schools in the South who still had not integrated their teams or campuses. Herd football players fans all know and cheer for these days, like Bernard Morris, Ahmad Bradshaw, and the greats from the past, like Chris Crocker, Byron Leftwich, John Grace, Chris Parker, Michael Payton, Ron Darby, Mickey Jackson and Jack Mahone, all owe a debt of gratitude to a true trailblazer, Marshall football's Roy Goines.

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