Lincoln Legends overcame enormous obstacles to make history

The 2016 college football season will mark the 50th anniversary of Ray Bellamy’s signing with the University of Miami.

A historic moment changed the landscape of college football in the country forever. With his signature, Bellamy became the first African-American to play football for a major college program in the Southeastern United States.

In a short time, it opened the floodgates for talented black athletes to play college football on the highest level in the only area of the country left that was closed to them.

Some may wonder how Lincoln, a small all-black high school nestled in the migrant farm area of Manatee County in those days, became the epicenter of a movement that would forever alter the landscape of college football.

In the coming weeks, the Bradenton Herald will highlight some of the people who helped put the school on the map.

It’s impossible to write about everyone, but Lincoln, devoid of the amenities that the all-white schools had at the time, showed a remarkable resiliency and wherewithal to conquer enormous odds.

Ray Bellamy is the face of this movement, but he will tell you, it was a collective effort. The coaches and teachers and current and former players at Lincoln had a camaraderie and dedication to each other that enabled them to succeed despite numerous roadblocks. They had a true brotherhood in every sense of the word.

Many of them broke barriers in other areas. Ray’s brother, Sylvester Bellamy was one of the first black police officers in Manatee County.

“The former players were always there to help us. They wanted the younger guys to be better than they were,” Bellamy said. “I don’t see myself as a pioneer I could not have made it without the support of the people here. I am indebted to my high school teammates because they believed in me.”

Henry Lawrence, the three time Super Bowl winner who played on the Lincoln’s final team in 1968 before integration, says the environment at the school was conducive to being successful.

“I learned from very good coaches who knew how to win and was around so many exceptional athletes,” he said.

These were men of high character, perhaps optimized by Lawrence, who played a major role in quelling a riot at Manatee High in 1969 though he was denied the opportunity to play football because of an unfair benching he received for speaking up against how unfair the black players on the team were being treated.

Robert Hamilton, Ray Bellamy’s first quarterback at Lincoln, remembers the first pass he threw to him and how he could see the greatness that would erupt some day.

“I was a senior and he was freshman. I threw him a pass, he was in the clear and he dropped it,” Hamilton said. “He came to me and apologized, and I said it was OK. The next pass he caught for an extra point and he was OK from there. He was always determined. He would pick up anything that the coaches or players would tell him to do. He would pick it up easy and add stuff to it. He was that good,”

Hamilton, a ’65 Lincoln graduate went on to play quarterback a Allen University in South Carolina, graduated and taught for 37 years at Lincoln Middle School.

‘It was great playing for Lincoln back in those days because you could always find players ahead of you who were willing to help you,” Hamilton said, “Everyone knew about Lincoln. They didn’t want to play us because they knew we would beat them. We had so many good athletes and after Ray signed with Miami those colleges knew they had to come here because of all the talent we we had.”

James Green, a tight end and ’63 Lincoln graduate, and first black man to be appointed secretary of one of the departments in the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, said Lincoln was the spawning ground that enabled him to reach his goals in life.

“You had the cream of the crop at Lincoln because all of Manatee County was being bused into one school and everyone had to scuffle to make a position and make the team,” Green said, “You had to fight for a position and then do it all over again (the next season). But I wouldn’t have traded that for anything. It gave me the push and the drive to go onto higher heights in life.”

Kenneth Mays. another Lincoln football standout, added: “When you went to practice there would be all the old guys there who played before you and they were always encouraging you. They had a saying when problems come you have to find the weakness in that problem and if you attack it right you know it will not rise. To me that is what I remember the most. Ole Ray Bellamy, we put some hurt on Ray, but he would always bounce back.”

Bellamy never lost a game in his four years of high school football. They were was one tie he said and the next season Lincoln beat that team, Clearwater Pinellas, 89-0 with seven touchdowns called back.

Lincoln was poor financially and there were years when the coaches didn’t have the money to buy the younger players football shoes and their equipment often wasn’t up to par with the other the schools.

But they were rich on camaraderie, loyalty and love and dedication to each others and oh that talent. There was a treasure chest of that at Lincoln.