Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jim Crow First Person

Cousin Sterling, photographed September 25, 2010 by Shannon Finney

One of the first things you should know about Cousin Sterling is that he loves to talk…and talk and talk some more, until he’s worn you out, and then he moves onto the next person. As you try to politely disengage, he then puts the “grip” on you, seizing your hand and going in for another round on whatever topic has caught his attention. Sitting outside at the old family farm for our family reunion picnic this past weekend I found myself face to face with Cousin Sterling. And as he began his ramble about the state of the world, I interjected with what I thought would lighten the mood - an off-the-cuff comment about what Sterling thought about the Washington Redskins football team.  What I received, instead, was Sterling’s response that he was not and would never be a fan of the Redskins because they were racist. The conversation that unfolded was nothing that I could have anticipated. Sterling told me of his dreams for a career in pro-football. He told me of his on-field exploits while playing college ball at Howard University, and he told me how his personal dreams collided with the prejudice of then-Redskins owner, George Preston Marshall, whose refusal to integrate the team left Cousin Sterling in limbo. In the end it would take the efforts of Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall in 1961 to force Marshall’s hand and integrate the Redskins. But for Cousin Sterling, it would be too late. He would go on to play for the then-Baltimore Colts until a career-ending knee injury in his first season would sideline his pro-football career permanently.  In his 70s now, Cousin Sterling spends his days selling flowers from his truck on the roadside, talking to whoever will listen. I hope they listen well.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this story and the photo. People don't spend enough time listening these days, sadly.