Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dupree plus ça change

Dupree on the Oklahoma football team
I watched a film on ESPN the other night; it was part of their "30 on 30" series of sports documentaries and this one featured the past of  Marcus Dupree, the high school running back with the can't-miss future. 

Like so many of the best-laid plans, his went awry!  The show is called "The Best That Never Was," and I commend it to your attention.  Even if you're not the big sports fan, it will speak to you about how things can change...sometimes for the good, and sometimes not.

Dupree, out of Philadelphia, Mississippi, had an amazing ability to take a football and run with it.  In high school, it didn't seem to matter how many guys on the other team tried to tackle him.  Old game footage in the documentary lets you see Dupree shaking off would-be tacklers the same way that Sarah Palin ignores rules of grammar and diction - with a gleeful alacrity that defied "refudiation."

And for what happened to him in college and beyond, I'm going to let you watch the show, because I hate to spoil the ending.  But there is an interesting sidestory to all this.

You who remember or have read of the civil rights struggle in this nation will recall Philadelphia, MS, as the place in which the based-on-fact movie "Mississippi Burning" was set.  Three civil rights workers, on their way to help African-Americans register to vote in that state (yes, this was 1964, not 1864) were waylaid on "speeding" charges as they traveled down Highway 19, held for several hours, and then set free.  From all appearances, it seemed that the sheriff held them long enough for local Klansmen to marshal their forces, and once the hooded hoodlums were ready, the three were let go, only to be beaten and killed by local horrors. 

The Law of Neshoba County on trial.  Cecil Price, left.
 The nation sat stunned, watching as a three-month long search finally resulted in the young men being found dead.  The local cops - Sheriff Lawrence Rainey and his deputy, Cecil Price, went up on murder charges and finally went to jail on severely compromised verdicts.  (The presiding judge having referred to the dead men by the 'n' word, you know the trial wasn't exactly on the up and up.)

But after serving four years of a seven (!) year sentence, Cecil Price came out of prison a changed man, accepting finally the changes that had come to the nation.  His son Cecil, Jr., and Dupree went to school together, entering local schools in 1970 that were desegregated for the first time that year.  "Little Cecil" and Dupree played high school football together in the 80's, hung out together, and visited in each other's homes.

At the end of his career, Marcus Dupree called Cecil Price, the man who had gone to jail for killing black and Jewish civil rights volunteers, and asked for, and received, a huge favor.

Watch the show, please.  ESPN will be repeating it.  If you're a young person, remember: my generation lived through this when we were in our teens.  It's hard to imagine that sort of hatred could exist in America, isn't it?

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