PALMETTO -- It's been nearly a half century since Ray Bellamy broke the color barrier of major college football in the south when he signed to play for the University of Miami.
The Palmetto native is home this weekend to bring that historic day back to life and be honored along with five other Lincoln High athletes in a special ceremony at 5 p.m. Saturday at Lincoln Memorial Middle School.
Ed Dick, the long-time Bradenton resident who recruited Bellamy and made that December, 1966 signing happen, will be in attendance.
When they sat down for breakfast Friday at The Nook in Palmetto, you could tell their appreciation for each other has never waned though it's been 46 years since Bellamy inscribed his name on the document that opened doors for thousands of African American football players.
When Miami decided it
was going to break down the color barrier, Dick was the person the coaches contacted to make it possible. That's when he found Bellamy.
A Miami graduate, Dick had been pushing the school since 1961 to sign an African American football player, complaining that all the good black players were going to schools in the North.
"I went to one of their practices at Lincoln and there was a plethora of talent," Dick recalled. "But Bellamy was special, someone so big and so fast with great hands. He was 6-5, ran a 4.4 (second 40-yard dash) and had hands as big as catcher's mitts. He was also president of the student body and a good student. I knew right away he was the one."
Also being honored at the festivities are Lincoln head football coach Eddie Shannon, Henry Lawrence, Neil "Chip" Nelson, Waite Bellamy and Marvin Clemons. Each of the Lincoln High graduates has been inducted into a Hall of Fame for their athletic achievements.
"I am really excited because this is where my friends and family are and this is where I grew up and this is in the beginning," Bellamy said. "This has to be the most gracious thing that has happened to me and it's as exciting as when I was inducted into the University of Miami Hall of Fame.
"Having a chance to salute the community and say thanks is a great opportunity. Ed Dick has always been my rock. He is the only one I ever called for some kind of help. He has always been there. I always think about him."
Event organizer Moody Johnson said he and others came up with the idea after Shannon was recently inducted into the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) Hall of Fame.
"After Eddie, we felt it would be fitting for us to honor all the Lincoln High graduates who are in one hall of fame or another," Johnson said.
Here is a snapshot look at their achievements:
n Ray Bellamy -- A member of the University of Miami Hall of Fame, Bellamy became the first African American to play college football for a major college south of the Mason-Dixon Line when he played for the Hurricanes. Injuries from an auto accident curtailed a career that seemed destined for the NFL.
n Eddie Shannon -- A member of the FHSAA Hall of Fame, Shannon is a former Lincoln High head football coach as well as an assistant coach at Manatee High. In 1996 he carried the Olympic torch before the summer games and has had numerous honors bestowed upon him.
n Henry Lawrence -- A member of the Florida Pro Sports Hall of Fame, Lawrence is Manatee County's most successful pro football player. He spent 13 seasons with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders and won three Super Bowls.
n Waite Bellamy -- A member of the National Negro Hall of Fame and Florida A&M Hall of Fame, Bellamy was an All-American basketball player at FAMU where he averaged 27.9 points his senior year. He was a NBA draft pick and a three-time scoring champion in the former Eastern Basketball League, the top pro league outside of the NBA.
n Neil "Chip" Nelson -- A member of the National Negro High School Basketball Hall of Fame, the 6-feet, 1-inches tall guard holds the Lincoln single-game scoring record with 61 points in the state championship game and averaged 26 points his senior year.
n Marvin Clemons -- A member of Eckerd College Athletic Hall of Fame, Clemons was a scoring and rebound leader at Eckerd (then called Florida Presbyterian College). He was the first African American to play sports at the former Manatee Junior College.