Athletics credited for ‘paving the way’ for integration of SHS

Henry Vaughn
Logan Kirkland
Staff Writer

Chatter of mandatory integration fluttered throughout Starkville in 1968.

Sitting at his desk, at the then all-black Henderson High School, 17-year-old Henry Vaughn and his friends began discussing all of the worst case scenarios amongst each other.

“Being treated fair, and that n----- word,” Vaughn said. “That’s what was going through our mind, we weren’t going to listen to that, we weren’t going to take that.”

In 1969, came the announcement from their teachers. There would be a mandatory integration by the federal government and those at Henderson High School would soon be moved to Starkville High School.

Although the city was taking its steps toward equality, Vaughn said the idea of integration obviously wasn't popular for both races.

"We didn't like the idea of integration, we didn't like it and we didn't want it," Vaughn said. "We went over there with that intention to not be mistreated by nobody."

Before the mandatory integration, Vaughn said teachers were being mixed around the different schools and a small group of about 10 black students were sent to Starkville High as a multicultural committee to help ease the process.

As these efforts were made to help ease the transition of integration, Vaughn said he thinks athletics played a huge role in limiting the hostility in the school.

"Instead of having spring training at the black school, we had spring training at the white school," Vaughn said.

When school let out in the spring at Henderson High School, Vaughn, his classmates and friends would all climb into the back of a pick up truck and zip over to the Starkville High's football field to begin playing ball with white people.

Vaughn said people talked about how mean the head football coach was. He said collectively, they would not allow for him to kick, hit or call them the n-word.

"We weren't going to take that abuse, we weren't going to take that from him," Vaughn said.

Starkville was in a unique situation. The two schools facing integration were both predicted to win their conference in the preseason. Starkville High School was predicted to win the Little 10 conference and Henderson High School was predicted to win the Little Six conference.

Vaughn, an all-conference running back who later went on to play at Jackson State University, said there was confrontation at first among the players and coaches, because the players and coaches at Starkville High wanted to move some of the black players around so they could play their players.

"We had a couple of fights out on the field," Vaughn said.

Those fights were sparked from either black players beating the white players in blocks or passes or vice versa.

One day in practice, Vaughn said their coach "collared" one of the black players by grabbing him by the collar of his football pads, bringing him to the ground.

"We all got ready to quit, as a matter of fact, we did quit," Vaughn said. "He roughed him up. What he did, he didn't have to do it."

All of the black players walked off the field and into the locker room. Then the coaches came back and got them so the team could resume practice.

"We had to stick together," Vaughn said.

Spring practice concluded. Now, it was time for Vaughn to start his first year, his senior year, at Starkville High School.

Vaughn said because the white people knew who he and the other team members were, it made a "world of a difference" and the mixing of races wasn't quite like he expected.

"We did more paving the way for the rest of the high school that would be coming," Vaughn said. "We had such a great football team, it covered a lot of stuff up."

In the classrooms of Starkville High, there were some fights, and name-calling, but it didn't happen as often as he thought it would. He said the n-word was seldom used and not used often.

He said as far as both on and off the field, there was a group of white teammates who stepped up and tried to keep peace whenever tensions would rise in the halls.

"Those guys blocked for me man. We couldn't have asked for better people," Vaughn said. "Mostly, those guys, they just took us up on their arms and we fell in place like we had been playing ball together all year long."

The reason Vaughn felt their year at Starkville High was without major problems, was due to the success of their football team. He said when people don't have something in common to rally behind, chaos ensues.

In particular, Vaughn said when the team started being less successful the following years, the fights and interactions between both white and black people became much worse.

"Through it all, I think we had the mildest transition than the classes behind us," Vaughn said. "I think we had less disruption and fights than any of them."

Vaughn said through it all, having the football team endure the brunt of the first steps of Starkville's integration set the tone for how both races needed to act, which was a team.

"We kind of had everything already in place so all everybody had to do was just follow our plan," Vaughn said.