SI Vault
The Man Who Was Cut Out for the Job
Pat Jordan
October 11, 1971
Burlington, N.C. is a city of 40,000 set in the gentle hills and thick pines of the Piedmont, where the clay is the color of a Temple orange. There, a year ago, Cicero A. Frye, the white head football coach at Walter M. Williams High School, was forced out of his job, one he had held for 10 years, and replaced by a black man. Frye's teams had a state-wide reputation; quite a few of his players had gone on to Chapel Hill and Duke. His successor was Jerome Evans, the coach at Jordan Sellers, an all-black school across town that was being closed. Evans would be the first black head football coach at a major predominantly white high school in the South. The author has written a book entitled "Black Coach" (to be published next month by Dodd, Mead & Company) on Evans' first season. The following is an adaptation.
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October 11, 1971

The Man Who Was Cut Out For The Job

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"No, what makes it black?"

"All the radio buttons are set to black stations. That's all I listen to," and he punches another button. An announcer is giving the starting lineups for the North Carolina Central vs. Charlotte-Smith football game. Both are black schools. "We're late," says Evans, and he presses down on the accelerator.

This is the first time Jerome Evans and I have gone out socially. Although we have gotten along as well as, if not better than, we expected in the weeks I have been in town, he has repeatedly declined suggestions that he and his family go out to dinner with me. "It isn't necessary," he would say. When I had first come to Burlington, with Evans' approval, to write a book, he avoided me constantly. He was often an hour late for scheduled interviews, and sometimes failed to show up entirely. Finally, in exasperation, I asked him why he consented to have the book written when obviously he had no stomach for the project. "It's my insurance policy," he said, and then went on to explain that if it were written down, plain to see, that he had not made one single mistake, one error of judgment, it would be impossible for him to be fired.

As we approached Durham we passed cars filled with well-dressed whites waving University of North Carolina banners. "My assistant coaches wanted me to go to the UNC game," Evans says. "I told them I'd promised to take you to see NCC play. You were a good excuse to get out of their invitations."

"Thanks a lot."

"What's there for me, anyway?" he says. "Nothing. They'll all be white, and I won't be able to relax. And when they go to those postgame parties, what am I gonna do, start talking to some white girl? Wouldn't that be beautiful? Everyone in Burlington would be saying Jerome Evans wants a white girl. They'd love that. No sir, I'd rather go to NCC. I know everyone there. I feel comfortable. I'm no black separatist or anything like that. But it's too late for me, I'll never mix. I've got a lot of hate buried in me and I want to keep it buried. If I mix too much it might come out.

"I'm satisfied with the way things are. More than satisfied. I've reached my goal in life. I don't want to go any higher. I'll let other blacks become leaders of my people. I'd lived in the black world for so long, I had no desire to leave it. Then they closed Sellers, and I had to. Everything that happened this year was new to me. But now that I'm dealing with whites, I don't care if they like me or not. I don't even want them to like me. I'd be content if they just acknowledged me as a good coach and a man."

The NCC campus consists of modern brick buildings spread over rolling hills. In a valley sits the football stadium. It really is not a stadium but wooden stands on either side of a field that has a number of brown patches on it. The buildings, the field and the campus remind me of the few black homes I have visited in Burlington. They are new, plain and functional, without any signs of a tradition or culture of their own.

We walk through the gate, admitted on Evans' coach's pass, and someone calls out "Little Willie, how's my man?" Evans smiles at a heavyset black and then says to me, "My nickname in college. Would you believe he was a teammate of mine? He's gotten fat."

Evans excuses himself for a minute and goes to the men's room. I am standing in an open space between the field and the entrance gate. To the right is a tent where black women are barbecuing spareribs. The smell of sweet sauce and burning pork is all about me. The game is in progress, the two teams huddled over the ball near the 50-yard line. They are all black. The referees, tall, raw-boned men in spotless white pants and black-and-white-striped shirts, are black. Patrolling the sidelines, just as at every football game in the country, are overage, paunchy policemen. They, too, are black. Behind what must have been the NCC goal a group of black women are watching a mass of children playing in the leaves. On a rise overlooking the field a group of black men are standing, talking and arguing and laughing and passing paper cups of rum back and forth. The stands are filled with 10,000 people: older men—alumni—in suits with hair that is slicked and gleaming; their women, plump, pants-suited, with straight hair upturned at the ends; younger men—students—with Afros, goatees, berets, sunglasses and sullen faces; young women in dungaree bell-bottoms and tight sweaters, with bushy Afros and that pouty Angela Davis look that has become popular.

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