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Members of 1955 Compton Team That Broke Color Barrier Honored

October 27, 1994|KIRBY LEE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The occasion was to honor eight black players from the undefeated 1955 Compton College football team that broke racial barriers by playing Jones Junior College of Mississippi.

The game, involving the nation's two top junior college teams, marked the first time a Mississippi college, junior college or high school had played an integrated opponent. Top-ranked Compton defeated Jones, 22-13, before a crowd of 58,132 at the Rose Bowl to claim the junior college championship.

Most of the hoopla at a reception Tuesday night for the five surviving players at the Compton Community College Board of Trustees meeting, however, surrounded a demonstration by more than 100 students armed with signs in opposition of Proposition 187, the initiative that proposes to deny most public services to illegal immigrants.

"It is ironic that 40 years later, we find ourselves tonight dealing with another issue of racial overtones," board member Kent Swift said.

The protesters had dispersed by the time the four players in attendance--Lee Sampson, Billy Brown, Jimmy Waddell and Lee Mack--were recognized. The other remaining player, Edis McNeil, was not present.

"You see a lot of gentlemen tonight who have gone through a lot of hardships and played under constraints," Sampson said. "So right now we are in an era in our lives that we must reach out to people of other races. And it's important to realize we have to work together."

Sampson, 57, a loan consultant who lives in Lynwood, is spearheading a campaign to find players--black and white--from the 1955 team for a reunion next year in Ellisville, Miss.

Jones College wants the black Compton players to ride in a homecoming parade and attend a football game for the 40th anniversary of their historic contest.

For Mack, 59, an airline baggage handler whose son, Shane, plays for the Minnesota Twins, it's a gesture that is long overdue.

"After 40 years and a national championship, nobody talked about these guys until now," said Mack, an Inglewood resident. "They should have had their recognition in 1956, not 1996. We had eight blacks playing with white boys and that was unheard of. We went through hell sometimes. We've had bricks thrown at us and went through all kinds of segregated places."

Board vice president Emily Hart-Holifield, apparently moved by the players' testimonials, asked them to appear on a local cable television show to relive their experience and to give a talk to the Compton College athletic teams.

At the players' urging, a resolution was passed to rename the football field after Tay Brown, the coach of the 1955 team. Brown, who coached at Compton from 1937 to the mid 1960s, died in July at age 82.

"He was a great man and affected my life," Brown said. "He was colorblind. He didn't care if you were white, black or green. If you believed in yourself, he believed in you."

Brown, 62, a retired carpenter, has lived in the Los Angeles area since his playing days but said he had seen Sampson only once before Tuesday.

A tailgate party for the players will be held before the Tartars' Nov. 12 homecoming game against Los Angeles Valley and they will be recognized at the football awards banquet in January.

Waddell, 62, though, can't wait to make the trip to Mississippi. The halfback suffered a fractured nose, a cut eye and a concussion when he was kicked in the eye by a Jones player and was forced to leave the game early in the first quarter.

Waddell wants to find the player who kicked him. He wants to buy him lunch.

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