Next on the schedule was an Easter week track meet against Utah State and Brigham Young University, at Provo, Utah. BYU is a Mormon school, and the Book of Mormon specifies an inferior role for the Negro. Most of the blacks decided to beg off the track meet. "There were about a dozen reasons," says Dave Morgan. "The Mormons teach that Negroes are descended from the devil. As a reason for the track team's boycott it may sound like a small thing to a white person, but who the hell wants to go up there and run your tail off in front of a bunch of spectators who think you've got horns. And it was Easter week, and it seemed to us that there was an obvious connection between the martyrdom of Jesus and the martyrdom of Dr. King. To a white it might be nothing; to us it had great significance. And on top of all of that, there was the general fact that the Negro is treated like something out of the jungle here, and we wanted to express ourselves about that."
On the Monday night before the meet with Brigham Young, nine Negro trackmen arrived at the small apartment of Coach Vandenburg and presented their grievances. According to the young and outspoken coach: "They mentioned all kinds of crazy things. I said, 'Fellows, let's get to the point! Man, you're keeping me up all night!' But there was no point! Nothing! When they left at about 11:30 I felt that everything was settled. But 10 minutes later there's a knock on my door and it's Kelly Myrick, the hurdler. He says, 'We're boycotting.' I said, 'Who are you speaking for?' He said the whole nine who were in the room."
On Tuesday and Wednesday the recalcitrant athletes showed up at track practice, and Vandenburg began to entertain hope that the boycott was off. When he heard informally that the athletes were going to refuse to head for Utah he prepared a statement saying that they were, in effect, quitting the team.
On Thursday night Assistant Athletic Director Bowden talked to the boycotting athletes for three hours. According to School President Joseph Ray, "Jim told them what would happen if they went through with their plan. He told them that he didn't necessarily disagree with them on principle, but he said they were paying too big a price to make their point." According to the athletes, Bowden told them flatly that they would be off the track squad and lose their scholarships if they refused to go to Provo. After the session with Bowden, Coach Vandenburg asked the Negroes if they wanted to have another talk with him. They said they had done all their talking. The track team left for BYU Friday morning with eight Negroes staying behind. At Provo the team was joined by Negro Half-miler John Nichols of Watts, an art major and a sensitive young man who was in sympathy with the boycotters but wanted to see for himself the situation at Brigham Young.
Once there, things became so tense, according to Nichols, that he got into a fistfight just before the meet with a teammate who kept calling him "black boy." "I knocked him on his ass," says Nichols. Now Nichols, too, refused to compete and was off the track team.
The press was told that the suspension of the black track men was for the current school year and that next year's athletic scholarships would be discussed when the time came. But each of the boycotting Negroes claims he was told privately that his scholarship would terminate at the end of the year; he should look elsewhere. Coach Vandenburg took a reporter aside and said, "They're finished. There's no special rules for blacks and whites or greens and pinks. I'm hired to do the best job according to my ability, to decide all these things for everybody, and I decided. I didn't kick them off; they quit."
President Ray and the faculty athletic council declined to veto Vandenburg's action. "If there is a case for compassion," Dr. Ray said, "it would be up to the coach. Nobody is going to tell him what to do. I regret this very much. These are good boys. But they either collectively or individually hoodwinked themselves into the conviction that we wouldn't let them all go. A whole lot of pushing has been done by Negroes, and that pushing is going to hasten the day when your Negro comes close to equality. But I think in this case they paid a hell of a price to win their point.... This is a price that no college athletes in this country have ever yet paid for a point on this issue. They were laying down their collegiate athletic lives, and they surely knew it."
The black athletes' difficulties did not end with the loss of athletic scholarships. Bob Beamon's wife had a decent job at last (Vandenburg reportedly found it for her within an hour when it was raised as a boycott issue the previous Monday), and on the Monday morning after the boycott she started off to her first day of work. Beamon drove her to the office and went back home. The phone rang. "Bob?" his wife said. "You better come get me." He hurried back and picked her up. She told him that her new boss had taken her aside and said that he understood Beamon was no longer affiliated with UTEP. "I told him you were still at the school," Mrs. Beamon said, "and he told me, 'Look, I can't get involved in this thing. You can't have the job.' "
That afternoon an officer of a bank called Beamon and said, "Bob, I heard you lost your scholarship. Will you be able to pay your bills?" Several other callers asked the same question. Beamon says: "Was it pressure? I don't know. But I do know that the whole town was against us."
"We're all alone in this thing," John Nichols says.