Blount Press Row

Albert Davis Day

Fiftieth anniversary of landmark game cause for much reflection

The following are highlights from former Alcoa star Albert Davis’ junior and senior season with the Tornadoes. Footage is courtesy of former Alcoa coach Jack Raby.

Editor’s note: The following is the first installment of a two-part series on the 50th anniversary of former Alcoa running back Albert Davis becoming the first black player to play in a high school game with whites in Blount County. Part II will chronicle the Jack Raby years at Alcoa and Davis’ brush with college football immortality.

By Stefan Cooper
Editor
Blount Press Row

Doris Bailey dressed the girls for the game and gave her husband, Bill, a kiss for luck.

On Sept. 13, 1963, Alcoa fullback Albert Davis became the first black player to play in a Blount County high school game with whites.

Bill would ride to Everett High School with the team. Doris would follow later in the car.

The Alcoa High School coach and his family had received a series of ugly and threatening phone calls over the previous week.

“‘Don’t worry,’” Doris said Bill told her as he left.

As she backed out of the driveway with her and Bill’s four daughters, it became vividly apparent, she said, just what her husband and his team were about to do. Waiting at the end of the drive was a Tennessee Highway Patrol escort that would remain with Doris and the girls for the rest of the night.

“I was shocked when I saw that state trooper waiting there when I backed out,” Doris said.

It was Sept. 13, 1963, Friday the 13th.

Arguably the most mythic figure in Blount County sports history played his first high school football game that night. Alcoa fullback Albert Davis was unlike any athlete anyone, including Bill, had ever seen.

He was big, already 6-foot-1 as a freshman. He had an almost impossible blend of power and speed, weighing 218 pounds and timed at 10.8 seconds in a 100-yard sprint across Alcoa’s Goddard Field – in pads and cleats.

Davis was also black.

He and eight others from all-black Charles M. Hall had begun the integration of Alcoa schools two weeks before, four others from all-black Hale enrolling at Maryville the same day.

Things had gone largely without incident. There’d been nothing like what happened at Clinton, which, in 1956, became the first high school in the South to integrate.

Rioting, overturned cars, threats to the mayor and the local newspaper helped make the first two years of integration there perilous, to say the least. In 1958, an estimated 75 to 100 sticks of dynamite ripped the school apart, Clinton students finishing the year at Oak Ridge.

Each of the 13 students from Hall and Hale had been hand selected in the spring of 1963. Few teachers and administrators at any of the schools were told. Most of the faculty at Hall found out when Davis, his brother, David, and the rest weren’t in their seats the Tuesday after Labor Day for the first day of classes.

Only the brightest students, the best athletes, were selected, and that meant Davis. It’s where the story of what happened at Everett that night really begins.

When it came to athletics, Davis was already an established star at Hall as an eighth-grader, leading the Negro Affiliated Schools in Tennessee in scoring that season. The late Clarence Teeter built some powerhouse teams at Hall through the years.

Davis knew what his leaving would mean to Hall, to Teeter. The school would never be the same and indeed closed its doors a decade later. It tore at Davis. The wound, through the years, has never closed.

It’s an important detail. For all those who cheered Davis at Alcoa the next four years, he carried with him the memory of those he’d left behind. For two long, bitter days initially, he refused to transfer. Alcoa City Schools imposed a deadline for him to get there. Finally, at the urging of his father, Jefferson, he relented.

Steve Fugate was a junior at Alcoa the fall of 1963 and an offensive lineman on the football team. There was a bond between Davis and he right from the start.

Fugate grew up in Eagleton. He would have gone to Everett had his mom not been a teacher there. Fugate’s father died when the former was still a small boy. To encourage him to take a sense of accountability about his life, he said, his mom paid the tuition for him to attend Alcoa.

“She didn’t want me going to a school where she taught,” Fugate said.

Like Davis, it meant leaving behind friends, coaches and teammates.

Bill Bailey, to all who knew the Alcoa icon, was nothing if not shrewd. He knew the backlash that would come with playing Davis. Longstanding-rival Lanier canceled that season’s game.

Bailey got right to it when informing the team, Fugate said. The Tornadoes opened the season at Tennessee High in Bristol a week before school started. When the team bus stopped for a meal, Bailey broke the news about the coming integration the following Tuesday.

“He said, ‘We’re going to have a couple or three football players in the group, and I’m going to let them play,’” Fugate said.

Fugate maintained friendships with many of his Eagleton friends who were now playing at Everett. They were going to light Davis up like Christmas, they told him. It was mostly high school football players talking rival to rival, Fugate said. The racial component of the pending game really wasn’t the issue, he said, adding only the qualifier: “This was the 1960s in the Deep South.”

The landmark civil rights march on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech, took place two weeks prior to the Everett game on Aug. 28.

Fugate said he cautioned his boyhood friends not to take Davis lightly. He’d seen him play. Hall played its home games at Goddard Field on Saturday afternoons.

“I said, ‘I’m telling you; you haven’t seen anything like this cat,’” Fugate said.

Fugate got his first close up look at Davis as the latter sat on the trainer’s table before his first Alcoa practice.

“I kind of looked in there, and there sat the best-looking athlete I’ve ever laid eyes on,” Fugate said. “The thought that comes to my mind through the years is we became a whole lot better football team that Tuesday afternoon.”

Davis didn’t dress for the Week 2 game at Loudon. When game night at Everett finally arrived, security was extensive. Representatives from the FBI and uniformed officers of the Tennessee High Patrol, Blount County Sheriff’s Office and the Maryville and Alcoa police departments were all on hand.

“They wanted to be visible,” former Alcoa teacher Ken White said. “As far as I remember, there were no issues at the game.”

As he had with his family, Bailey took no chances with his players. When the bus pulled up to Everett, his words were brief.

“I don’t remember coach Bailey saying a whole lot about it other than wear your helmet,” Fugate said. “He said, ‘I want you to put your helmet on and don’t take it off until you’ve got back on the bus.’”

The stage set, Davis did not disappoint.

Alcoa received the opening kickoff, and, on second down, gave the ball to Davis off right tackle.

“It’s as if coach said, ‘Let’s get this over with,’” Fugate said.

The distance to the end zone varies with whom you ask. An existing newspaper account put the ball at the Alcoa 40-yard line. Didn’t really matter. Seconds later, it was as if a thunderbolt had gone off.

“We turned around and handed it to Albert, and guess what?” Fugate asked. “He took it to the house!”

On his very first carry as a Tornado, Davis had scored.

Just as quickly, “The Albert Davis Show,” at least the opening act, was shut down. He wouldn’t play another snap in the game.

“He spent the rest of the game right over there next to coach Bailey,” Fugate said.

Davis would do things in future years they’ll talk about as long as they play football in Blount County. During the Jack Raby era as coach of the Tornadoes, he set records that remain standing nearly 50 years since. That night at Everett simply wasn’t the time, Bailey must have felt. In hindsight, considering the times, it’s hard to find fault with the decision.

Alcoa would go on to win the game, 27-0, but it came at a dear price. Tornado quarterback Richard Marsh was badly injured during the game, some fearing for his life. Bailey left the stadium with Marsh, accompanied by a priest.

“Bill was up all night with him and didn’t come home until morning until he knew (Marsh) was alright,” Doris said.

She admires her husband for the stance he took with Davis and the others all those years ago, she said. Davis’ career would take a series of painful turns in later years. Through it all, he and her husband remained close, Doris said.

“Albert really showed them that night,” she said. “It was beautiful.”

Just as Davis was the player destiny chose for that fateful game, Bill proved every bit the necessary coach.

“He was a good man,” Doris said. “He fit me to a tee.”

16 Comments

  1. Steve Hodson

    November 30, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    Stefan, I was a senior when Albert came to AHS. I played football and baseball with Albert including being a team mate at the first football game against Everett High School. I also played right field on the baseball team and Albert was the center fielder. I can remember Steve Cobble and myself picking Albert and his cousin David up and taking them to Maryville to visit some lady friends. Albert was and continues to be a class person and during our time together at Alcoa, we had no problems. Coach Teeter used to open the Halls Gym for us on some Saturday and Sunday afternoons and we would take a team to play Albert, C A Houston, Tommy Woods, etc. I would be embarrassed to tell you some of the scores on those rainy afternoons. I still get a chance to talk to Albert some and he continues to be a great person.

  2. skip murrin

    May 9, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    I first met Albert Davis in the locker room, spring of 1964. He was dressing for spring football and I for spring baseball. We crossed paths. He said hello. I said hello. We shook hands. I said hey do you play baseball. He said, Oh yeah, l play baseball. I said, Well, you don,t play second base, do you? He said, Oh no, l play outfield. We became instant friends.

  3. Lana Boyd

    October 31, 2013 at 11:40 am

    I am teaching here at Alcoa High school, a school where I could not attend in the 50s and early 60s because of segregation . I have enjoyed my 27 years here at Alcoa and I never thought that I would end up teaching in a school where I wasn’t able to attend ! It has been an experience for me , as I found out Alcoa and Hall High school were very different . There was more discipline at my high school (Hall) , than at Alcoa High . The students seem to lack the respect for teachers and each other , that was instilled in us at Hall . I chose to stay at Hall instead of going to Alcoa , because of the “horror stories: that we’d heard about from the integration of the first 13 students . I also wanted to graduate from the school that I started at . I have 3 younger siblings that transferred from Hall to Alcoa high school , because Hall school was officially closed in 1968 and they had to make the move . Integration has changed many lives , some positive , some negative . I am very , very proud that I chose to stay at my old school. Charles Martin Hall High school ! I think Al Davis and some of the others look back wish they had stayed at Hall High school as well !.

  4. Lana Boyd

    October 31, 2013 at 11:32 am

    I am teaching here at Alcoa, a school where I could not attend in the 50s and early 60s because of segregation. I have enjoyed my 27 years here at Alcoa and I never thought that I would end up teaching in a school where I wasn’t able to attend! It has been an experience for me, as I found out Alcoa and Hall High school were very different. There was more discipline at my high school (Hall), than at Alcoa High. The students seem to lack the respect for teachers that was instilled in us at Hall. I chose to stay at Hall instead of going to Alcoa, because of the “horror stories that we’d heard about from the integration of the first 13 students. I also wanted to graduate from the school where I started. I have 3 younger siblings that transferred from Hall to Alcoa high school because Hall school was officially closed in 1968 and they had to make the move. Integration has changed many lives, some positive, some negative. I am very, very proud that I chose to stay at my old school, Charles Martin Hall High School! I think Al Davis and some of the others wish they had!

  5. Greg Osborne

    October 18, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    I was the running back on the first state championship team in ’77. I met Albert and he gave me quite a few tips on running the ball.

    • admin_bpr

      October 21, 2013 at 4:21 pm

      You had some skills, Mr. Osborne. Editor: Class of 1978.

  6. Mike Mazanek

    October 17, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    WOW! I transferred to UT in Sept 1963 as a soph, and was aware we had just integrated the student population, but had no idea integration was that new to East TN as a whole. In fact, I’ve written UT several times trying to learn exactly when we did integrate athletics thinking we were first in the SEC to no avail. The best input I’ve received on it was when we celebrated the 50th anniversary in 2011, and it listed Lester McClain signing in 1967. I thought we had a black FB player before I graduated in Dec 1966, but I guess I’m wrong. I am extremely proud to be an alumni of such an forward leaning institution as UT, and I credit the school in contributing hugely to my life as well.

    Mike (UTK ’66) in NC

  7. June Knight

    October 12, 2013 at 7:44 am

    I have always enjoyed football and it was fun watching Albert play – he was a great player. thanks for this article.

  8. Hedley Thame

    September 25, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    Nice piece of history. Well done Al, looking forward to part II.

  9. David R. Duggan

    September 19, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    By the way, Stefan, Albert broke at least one more color barrier. Perhaps you will get into this in part II, but he was the first African-American from Tennessee (not the first, but the first from Tennessee) named to the All-South team in 1965, the same year that David Davis became the first A-A to play in the state T.S.S.A.A. basketball tourney. Keep up the good work.

  10. Amy Campbell Large

    September 19, 2013 at 8:25 am

    What a trip back in time! Thanks so much for this wonderful article about one of Alcoa’s “legends!” In the year 1963 I was just a young girl mostly wrapped up in Barbies and riding my bicycle to Springbrook Park. Wish I had understood at the time (as I do now) that history was happening right before my eyes. I look forward to Part II!!

  11. David R. Duggan

    September 18, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    Thank you, Stefan, for this article, and thanks to the Raby family for sharing the highlights video. What a pleasure it is, after all these years, to again see Albert run the ball. I still think he was the best ever around here, and we all, from time to time, think about what might have been if he had gone to the University of Tennessee and remained healthy. I’ve been told that Coach Teeter once said to another coach, “I’ve got a Jim Brown.” Indeed he did. For the rest of the world, Albert’s story will remain a “what might have been” story, but for us, it happened; right here. And he was the best to play the game.

    • admin_bpr

      September 18, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      Thanks, David. Hope to have Part II up soon.

  12. Monica Hall

    September 16, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    This a beautiful account of history in the making. Thank you!

  13. Leigh Anne Ellis

    September 15, 2013 at 8:26 am

    Well said Dr. Betty Smith.

  14. Betty H.Smith

    September 14, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    Stefan, this is a well-written article and very interesting. You have great quotes from those who were there. The article transforms the rest of us to that event in time.

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