BYU is directly addressing its racing history this weekend by honoring two members of the Black 14, the players kicked off the 1969 Wyoming football team because they thought about wearing black armbands during a game with BYU. to protest a past Latter-day Saint policy on race and priesthood.
John Griffin and Mel Hamilton will ceremoniously light up the huge Y on the mountain overlooking Cougar Stadium on Saturday night before No. 19 BYU hosts Wyoming to an ESPN national audience in Provo, Utah.
Turning on the Y before a football game – the largest of the BYU community meetings – is reserved for dignitaries the school wants to honor in a very public way. The pre-match ceremony takes place on the pitch in front of 60,000 fans.
The tribute is one of the first initiatives of BYU’s new Office of Belonging, said Carl Hernandez, the school’s new vice president for membership. The Office of Belonging and the new position of vice president were two of 26 recommendations for reducing bias made by a committee that conducted a major campus study on diversity, equity and belonging.
“We will have tens of thousands of our community members who will be introduced to the Office of Belonging and Black 14 on Saturday night,” said Hernandez.
Late Wyoming manager Lloyd Eaton kicked Griffin, Hamilton and the rest of the players who later became known as the Black 14 off the team the day before their 1969 game with BYU in Laramie, Wyoming, when they went in his office to ask if he thought they should wear black armbands to protest a policy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that prohibited blacks from entering temples and receiving the priesthood.
That restriction was lifted by a 1978 revelation announced by church leaders.
Eaton rejected the players before hearing their proposal. The players were left speechless. When they finally tried to speak, he repeatedly silenced them by screaming at them to shut up, they said. Then he told them they should continue on “Negro welfare”.
In the words of one of the players, the Black 14 has been canceled. Many Wyoming fans chose the coach over the players, wearing gold bracelets with Eaton inscription. The group was ostracized.
“It took me 10 years to get over the anger,” Griffin told Desertet News in 2020. “I finally realized it wasn’t healthy for me to feed that anger anymore. It was a tragedy, but all I could do was go. get on with my life and do my best and don’t let that get in my way. That has been my goal from the late 1970s until today. “
Griffin called the painful events of 1969 “ancient history” that deserved a reconciliation in the present. Over the past two years, the 14 blacks and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have shown goodwill by working together to distribute 800,000 pounds of food to the hungry.
“It’s extraordinary,” Griffin said in 2020 when the collaboration began. “This is an American story. Nobody could have written it 50 years ago, 10 years ago, two years ago. They can now. And it is a moving story. It is not a rotation. It’s true. It is in the hearts of all of us. If I died tomorrow, I lived a full life. I was part of something that is much bigger than me. “
Hamilton was part of the first moments of reconciliation. Prior to a BYU-Wyoming game in 2005, he was invited by a Laramie church leader to speak in the same Latter-day Saint campus building that he had staked out in 1969. Latter-day Saints college students have made black bracelets for the game.
The connections built then led to the combined effort to alleviate hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Hamilton called Elder S. Gifford Nielsen, former BYU and NFL quarterback and current General Authority Seventy for the church, to ask help. Trucks loaded with food soon began arriving in the hometowns of Black 14 members in eight states.
“The Black 14 has always wanted to draw something useful from the incident in 1969,” Hamilton told Deseret News in 2020. “We didn’t want to take on a bitter and negative connotation. We wanted our legacy to be more than a confrontation. something to improve the aspect of our heritage by helping other people. “
BYU President Kevin Worthen told Deseret News this week that Black 14 has created a positive “from what have been tough times for them and us …”.
“It is quite powerful to say that we can do a lot for our communities to help them, but also to help heal the wounds that have been felt in the past as we serve today,” Worthen said. “This is a model for saying, let’s get together and work on something. Now that, in my mind, it is one of the most powerful ways to deal with the past, improving the present and the future, joining together to share those common goals we may have and so I think you find more and more points in common as you do.
The BYU Membership Office is designed around the messages of Latter-day Saint leaders about the brotherhood and sisterhood of all people as children of a Heavenly Father.
Worthen said the Black 14 personified that message.
“It is a good example of when people, working with the spirit of recognizing the intrinsic worth of other individuals and our ability to do good, begin to focus on this rather than on some other way of dealing with past demands,” he said. said.
Two weeks after Eaton dismissed the Black 14, some San Jose State players wore black armbands in a game with BYU. The following year, Ron Knight, a junior college defender, broke the BYU football team’s color barrier. The revelation on the priesthood followed in 1978.
The University of Wyoming formally apologized to the Black 14 in 2019. Hamilton’s son Malik became a Latter-day Saint years ago.
“I have never hated people of the Latter-day Saint religion,” Hamilton said. “It was my mission to… talk wherever I went to make it clear that we don’t hate people. We just wanted a policy to change. And thank God, there was a revelation that changed it. “
Hamilton and Griffin will participate in a question and answer session after a new documentary short titled “The Black 14: Healing Hearts and Feeding Souls” premieres Friday at 7pm at the Varsity Theater at Wilkinson Student Center. The film was created by BYU journalism students.