COLUMBIA, MS (WDAM) - The state of Mississippi forced Columbia High School and Jefferson High School in Columbia to integrate in 1970.
Several players like Walter Payton and Joe Owens from that newly integrated team went on to play in the NFL after being coached by Coach Charles Boston, a long-time coach who played a major role in integrating Columbia High School athletics
Boston was on the coaching staff of Columbia’s first integrated football team. He was a coach at Jefferson during the segregation era when he was hired on to coach at Columbia.
Coach Boston said the transition from segregation may have been a challenge statewide, but it wasn’t much of a challenge for the players.
“We did have spring training with the guys from Columbia High and ones from Jefferson and things went okay as far as I know," Boston said. “A lot of people expected fireworks and things, but we didn’t have any problems.”
Boston remembers when Columbia’s head coach asked Boston to help coach the newly integrated team.
“He asked me when we talked, he told me who he was, ‘I’m the head football coach and wanted to know if you wanted to work with me,'” said Boston.
Boston said he couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
“Well I got to work. I got two kids. I got to get them through school. I have to feed them," Boston said. “I said I will, but I’m not going to the press box. You’re not going to hide me to so to speak up there you know.”
Boston recalled that for athletes at the time, desegregation was for politicians, not them.
Athletes were used to playing with each other outside of school. Even Coach Boston, in his childhood, ignored segregation laws when it came to sports.
“We used to play sandlot. It wasn’t actually against the white kids, but we used to meet down at the train station where the big lawn there and we’d play football,” Boston said.
But Law enforcement wouldn’t allow it.
“After we played 20-30 minute, the cops would show up. Y’all can’t do this and break us up,” Boston said.
Boston took those experiences with him as a coach and showed his players by example that race wasn’t a factor. It was about character.
“I treat you like you treat me, and I think that’s the way it should be," Boston said. “In fact, my parents were church-going folks, so we had to go. So, we believed in the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”