Saturday, February 8, 2014

Black History Month

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce.

Black History Gallery Exhibit
The celebration of Black History Month on the campus of Panola College is led each year by librarians Cristie Nutt and Sherri Baker. The library's gallery is arranged to celebrate the accomplishments of African-Americans, especially men and women from Texas. And a "Lunch Box Special" is staged each February, with the library staff providing a delicious lunch with an appropriate program. As State Historian with an office on the Panola College campus, I was invited to provide a program at noon on Tuesday, February 4, in the Murphy Payne Community Room of the M.P. Baker Library.

Librarian Cristie Ferguson welcomes the crowd.
Lunch Box Specials are open to the public, and we had a standing-room-only crowd made up of citizens from the community, college students, and Panola faculty and staff members. The focus of my program, was Doris Miller,. an African-American from Waco who was a decorated hero of Pearl Harbor. A strapping farm boy at 6'3" and 225 pounds, Miller was a high school football star known as "Raging Bull." In 1939, 19-year-old Doris Miller enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Assigned to the battleship U.S.S. West Virginia, Miller was a mess attendant - and the ship's heavyweight boxing champ. 

On December 7, 1941, a surprise attack by Japanese warplanes focused on the big ships. The West Virginia was struck by seven torpedoes and two bombs, killing the captain and more than 100 crew members. While his ship was sinking beneath him, Doris carried his mortally wounded captain to cover. Although he had no gunnery training, Miller manned a machine gun and blazed away at attacking Japanese planes until ordered to abandon ship. Six months later Doris Miller became the first African-American to win the Navy Cross, which was presented by a fellow Texan, Admiral Chester Nimitz of Fredericksburg. Sadly, in 1943 Miller went down with the escort carrier Liscombe Bay during the battle of Makin Island. I was privileged to write a short biography of Miller at the request of Eakin Press, and the Lunch Box crowd seemed captivated by his story. 

I had enough time left to spend a few minutes on another notable African-American Texan, Bulldoggin' Bill Pickett. Born about 1870 near Taylor, young Pickett grew up fascinated by the cowboy culture around him. At that time bulldogs were trained to throw steers by biting the upper lip of the beasts. As a boy the irrepressible Pickett darted to a calf, grabbed his ears, bit his upper lip, and tossed the animal with a move of his head. A cowboy looking on shouted that the boy had to put bulldogs out of business when "he bulldogged that calf!" Pickett began cowboying at seventeen, and when trying to build a loop in brushy country, he often rode alongside a longhorn steer. Leaping off his horse, he seized the horns and bit the beast's upper lip. Soon he began to demonstrate his unique prowess at county fairs and early rodeos. Later he joined Oklahoma's 101 Ranch Wild West Show, a cowboy exhibition that performed throughout the nation and abroad. Pickett headlined the show and performed before millions, winning widespread acceptance in a time of open racial divide. The only performer known to have invented a rodeo event, Bulldoggin' Bill Pickett was the first African-American elected to the National Rodeo Hall of Fame, in 1972. 
Bulldoggin' Bill Pickett

Later in the week I was on the Panola College campus again, to emcee and provide a brief program at an induction ceremony for the Panola Athletic Hall of Fame. When I joined the faculty in 1970, I had spent the previous several yeas as a high school football and basketball coach, and I immediately became involved in Panola's athletic program. During my first year I was assigned by the president to coach the basketball team during the conference schedule, after the Pony coach was felled by illness and surgery at mid-season. For years I scouted for the team (there were no assistant coaches), and I was the scorekeeper for many years. For 35 years I was the voice of Pony Baseball over KGAS Radio in Carthage. And most enjoyably, I interacted with Pony and Fillie athletes for decades in my classroom. 
2014 Inductees:
Bottom L to R: Don Bounds, Mildred Hodge Griffith,
Todd Haney, above, Jim Gray and Steve Winfield

During the first three years of its existence, Panola County Junior College had a football team which won back-to-back state championships and a bowl game. The baseball team won a national championship in 1969, and Fillie basketball squads were back-to-back national champs in 1977 and 1978. Panola's first Hall of Fame induction was in 2002, and through the years inductees have included All-Americans in football, baseball, and men's and women's basketball. There have been two-time All-Americans, as well as athletes who have been conference or national tournament MVPs, and who have led the nation in scoring or home runs. Panola athletes have gone on to play not only at leading universities, but also in the NBA, the WNBA, the NFL, and major league baseball. Panola Hall of Famers also are in the NJCAA Hall of Fame, the WNBA Hall of Fame, and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. 
Panola A.D. Don Clinton

Added to our impressive Hall of Fame lineup in 2014 are: Jim Gray of Beckville, All State quarterback of the 1949 and 1950 football State Champs; Don Bounds of Joaquin, a power-hitting All-American catcher; Mildred Hodge Griffith of Carthage, an All-American basketball player who was MVP of the NJCAA National Tournament as a sophomore, during the first Fillies' National Championship; Steve Winfield of San Augustine, two-time NJCAA All-American and a member of the USA Team in the World Games in Japan, along with a nine-year professional career; and Todd Haney of Waco, an NJCAA All-American, a star at the University of Texas, and a 13-year pro who spent five seasons in the National League. The largest crowd of the four Hall of Fame inductions attended the ceremony and banquet - and a lively afternoon and evening of reminiscence and laughter. 
Todd Haney receives his plaque and an inscribed copy
of my 125-year history of The International League,
containing his photo as the 1998 Batting Champ
and his coach's photo, Jacke Davis, as an I.L.
player during the 1960s.

L to R:  Todd Haney, Steve Winfield, Mildred Hodge
Griffith, Jim Gray, Don Bounds

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