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Member of 'Black 14' recalls showdown over BYU, Mormon racial policy

Published July 15, 2013 10:46 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

On the same evening that the George Zimmerman verdict came down in the Trayvon Martin case, Mel Hamilton was in Provo, describing to an eager crowd his experience 44 years ago as a black football player protesting Mormonism's former priesthood ban.

In 1969, Hamilton was one of the so-called "Black 14" — African-American players on the University of Wyoming's football team — who planned to wear black armbands in their game against LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University to symbolize their opposition to the Utah-based faith's policy (discarded in 1978) of excluding black men from holding its all-male priesthood.

When he learned of their plans, Wyoming coach Lloyd Eaton revoked their scholarships and kicked all the players off the team.

"Would I do it again? That's always a stupid question. If the situation was the same, obviously, yes. Do I wish it was different? Yes," Hamilton told the Provo crowd, according to a report on the Mormon blog Wheat and Tares. "Do I wish there was transition period in Laramie, for people of different lifestyle? Yes."

The Black 14 happened, he said, "because of ignorance in how we should treat fellow human beings."

Now Hamilton speaks to high school classes about the protest, and it is discussed, he said, in every junior high school in Wyoming, and is taught at the University of New Mexico law school, University of Wyoming law school and the University of Arizona.

Four years ago, students at the LDS Institute of Religion in Laramie, the blog says, "volunteered to make black armbands for the 40th anniversary of the Black 14 protest."

Some things haven't changed, though.

When Hamilton lived in Laramie, he noticed white students crossing the street to avoid him when they saw him on campus.

Margaret Young, the BYU professor who organized Saturday's event, said her school's black students have reported as recently as this year that such racial avoidance still happens at times in Utah.

Peggy Fletcher Stack