By Brianna Baldwin and Katie Keith
If you have not read part one of The Syracuse 8 series, please read part one before proceeding. In the previous article, we explained what the Syracuse 8 was, what happened, and why, but in this article, we will be discussing what it would have been like to be in the Syracuse 8. Clarence “Bucky” McGill was one of those nine football players on Syracuse’s team that had boycotted practice due to racial discrimination and injustices, and we were able to interview him about his experiences.
To begin the interview, we asked Mr. McGill to explain a little about himself. He grew up in upstate New York and was not very exposed to racism as a child and teen. In high school, he worked hard and became not only a popular athlete but he was elected to the Student Council of his school. His high school was very similar to our own as with 1500+ students, only approximately eight were African American. Growing up in such a tight-knit high school with little diversity, college was a whole new opportunity, so he thought. He was only one of six African Americans in his freshmen class entering Syracuse University, and the college put a lot of restrictions on him, along with the other African American students. According to Mr. McGill, he grew up in an interracial family but was told by adults at Syracuse that he was not allowed to date white women, which came as a shock to him. This was only one of the many discriminatory practices the school took part in, even if it wasn’t blatantly complained about in the main complaints list mentioned in Part 1 of this Syracuse 8 series.
When it comes to the boycott, some articles indicate there was a lot of planning along with a lot of secrecy, but in reality, Mr. McGill says they would spend a lot of time together especially at a nearby restaurant, but they didn’t use a lot of that time to plan their boycott. He says that the group had decided on what they wanted to do but there was no specific person presenting the idea. When confront the coach, a mediator needed to come in so things stayed fair and hospitable. Jim Brown was that mediator; Jim came and stayed for about a week. Jim told the boys how this would affect their sports career, positively or negatively. “We’re not gonna let any other kids go through what we did. Even if we had to sacrifice our careers,” Mr. McGill said. This was incredible brave of these boys, giving up everything for others. When asked if there was any more information he believed to be important for readers to know, McGill said he thought that this video is very informative and should be watched in order to clear up any cloudy information or statements.
There were almost immediate negative impacts on the boys. The school was very racist and harsh. Mr. McGill was told he was unable to date white women, not his parents, but the actual university. Mr. McGill was shocked, he never had these types of rules in his household. The university treated the boys as little as possible and had many absurd rules, like dating white women. “We were [put] in general education classes; just enough to be eligible,” Mr. McGill said. Mr. McGill handle this as well as he could, but he did not take this sitting down. “I tricked them by putting easy classes on my sheet of paper, got it signed, and then changed the classes.” The others boy did not take this well. They suffered mentally due to all the negative outcomes. There were definite negatives, but that does not mean there were no positive effects.
All of the men of the Syracuse 8 moved on and led successful lives. Mr. McGill said “I never looked back, I never returned to Syracuse until we received the Chanlor metal,” showing how the men were able to move on and continue on with their lives. Mr. McGill went on to graduate from Syracuse University, telling an interviewer that he graduated in 1971 even though his degree says 1972. He obtained a Bachelor’s degree from the Maxwell School of Citizenship at Syracuse and a Masters in City and Region Planning from the Planning and Architecture school at Howard University in Washington D.C.
When asked what the most meaningful part of the whole experience was, he responded “At this point our receiving of the Chancellor’s medal of extraordinary courage.” This medal is given to students who show brilliance outside of the classroom. This medal is a very high honor when it comes to universities. When Mr. McGill was asked about what he would say to someone in a similar situation he was in, he said “I would go to the Bible because they say if you see someone doing something wrong, then if they don’t respond, bring multiple people. If that doesn’t work, officially address it, whatever that means: a demonstration, a letter, or more.” After all these negatives, positives, and life-altering events, the most key question was asked. Would you have done anything differently? “We would have gotten an attorney.”