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Black High School coaching pioneers honored by local sports group

By Hal Lamar | 8/22/2014, 1:18 p.m.
From 1931 to the end of the era of the 1960s, six men held sway over the athletic programs of ...

From 1931 to the end of the era of the 1960s, six men held sway over the athletic programs of the city’s historically all-black high schools turning young boys to men and doing it with little more than the widow’s mite.

Despite that, they turned out some of the most talented student-athletes and envied teams in Atlanta and the state of Georgia. On August 9, many of their "sons and daughters" composing the Atlanta Retired Athletes decided applause for their intrepid “fathers" was long overdue.

More than 400 crammed into Fulton County’s Helene Mills Senior Citizens Service center in the city’s historic Fourth Ward community to honor Raymond “Tweet” Williams of Henry McNeal Turner High School, John Merkerson of Luther Judson Price High School, Raymond “Chief” Wainwright of Samuel H Archer High school, Alexander “Shep” Shepherd of George Washington Carver High School (who later became the first AD at CL Harper High), Leslie Cornelius “ LC” Baker of Booker T. Washington high and T. Herman Graves of David T. Howard High were remembered for their contributions to student-athletes, the school system and to the African American community. “We owe a debt to those men that can probably never be re-paid, “said ARA president Robert Hall.”

Sadly, five of the six honorees are dead save Williams, the only surviving member of the august body. The memories of the other men, however, are kept by former spouses, children, other family members and ex-athletes who shared that knowledge through interviews conducted, then arranged in a video presentation that brought many of those in attendance at the August 9 luncheon to tears.

Williams now 88 and with family and former players surrounding him, spoke in a live interview session. He regaled the audience with stories to include how he earned the nickname “Tweet” (because of his pencil thin legs) and the challenges he and his colleagues faced during the segregated years of the 1950s and ‘60s.”

“We all suffered during that time, struggling with little to no equipment, very little money and often little help,” he said. It was not uncommon for them and other black coaches to coach every sport at the school.

“Coach was tough, real tough,” said former player Lowell Dickerson. “But that tough love he showed us instilled things in me that I follow to this day.”

There are reportedly efforts underway to petition the Atlanta School Board to rename Lakewood Stadium’s building and playing field for Williams and Baker. Baker, considered the granddaddy of the six, was responsible for not only developing the BTW athletic program but also coached Williams and Merkerson during their high school days. A former player, in fact, Dr. J.Y. Moreland eventually returned to BTW as principal, making him Baker’s boss.

The day’s events were highlighted with a proclamation from the school board presented by member Byron Amos, once a student-athlete at Washington High. Amos said he would immediately see to it personally that a huge plaque with the pictures of all six coaches would be hung in a place of prominence at the Atlanta School system main office. The plaque was also presented formally to the board with many ARA members and the honorees’ families in attendance. Individual plaques were also presented to the families.