Sam “Bam” Cunnigham Wins Again

             I enrolled in the University of Georgia Law School, in 1969, as a “trailblazer.”  White colleges and universities, in the South, had to be “tamed.” Robert Benham was the second, black student at Georgia but, instinctively, I knew that “Bob’s” goal, first and foremost, was to get a law degree.  I had a different idea.

            I could envision the “Georgia Bulldogs” with a diverse, student body and black athletes.  White supremacists had to be taught “racial etiquette.”  Vivian Malone and James Hood were admitted to University of Alabama on June 11, 1963. The following evening, white supremacists “gunned down” Medgar Evers on his front lawn in Jackson, MS.

            Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes were admitted to the University of Georgia in 1961.  Rioting flared-up throughout the campus.  I was a junior at Central High School in Coweta County, GA. White supremacists remember “history” and they give great deference to “white supremacy,” a philosophy.  They discuss it with their children at the dinner table

            Eight years later, and before I enrolled in law school, I had a “chance encounter” with Amira Baraka on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, GA.  Baraka was attending an assembly of the Pan African Congress.  He stood out wearing an “out-of-sight” dashiki, which was exactly what I needed to go with my huge Afro.  His business address was in Harlem, NY.

            With my dashikis, in hand, I was headed to “Bulldog Country.”  I was later told that I was the first, black, law student admitted to the law school absent being given special preferences.  My application made it clear that I was “black.”  At the time, black, law students were given “combat pay.”  Economically, I never had it so good.

            Everyone at the law school was looking forward to “Confederate Day.” Although I was from Newnan, GA, I had never heard of it.  Black employees, at the university, had to agree to participate in it “or else.”  It was a reenactment of slavery. White men, on horses with “whips,” would march, “chained slaves,” to the Clarke County Courthouse to simulate a “slave auction.”

            In 1969, I was in my first year at the University of Georgia Law School.  Jeff Sessions was in his third year of law school at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, AL.  I would take “Bob” to a “poverty conference at the University of Alabama. It was being sponsored by “white hippies.”  Black law students, from the North, were also in attendance.

            “Bob” and I checked in at the Holiday Inn in Tuscaloosa, AL.  While we were having breakfast, this “big white man” asked the waitress, “what are two ‘niggers’ doing eating in the restaurant?”  This was five years after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

            The fun was about to begin.  That night, these black, law students wanted to attend an “interracial party” in a white section of Tuscaloosa.  I agreed to “drop them off” at the party.  When I arrived back to my room, Alvin Chambliss, a future, chief counsel for the Mississippi NAACP and law professor at Indiana University, was “frantically” ringing my room.

            Chambliss was reporting a “lynch mob” assembling outside his picture window.  This was a walk-in room.  Bob was taking a shower.  I ran over to Chambliss’ room with “my equalizer.’  Shots were fired in the air.  Chambliss followed me to my room.  I told “Bob” to pack his bags.  We had to get out of Alabama fast.  We made it out of Alabama by the “skin of our teeth.”

            The University of Georgia was no “sanctuary.” “Bob’s” fiancée was in the typing room.  There were one hundred, nameless typewriters for the law students. “Bob’s” fiancée was typing a paper for him.  She was alone.  A white male, law student came into the typing room and said, “nigger bitch,” you are sitting in my seat.

            When I arrived at “Bob’s” apartment, his fiancée was still “scared.”  She was unable to give me a description of the “culprit.”  Armed with an “arrest warrant,” for a citizens’ arrest, I went into bars and restaurants questioning patrons about the incident.  I read them the “riot act.”  This was not going to be “happening” in Athens. Robert Benham would later become the chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.

            I was sitting in Prof. Ege’s property course.   His textbook was not traditional.  The class was discussing the Chicago “Contract Buyers League” case. Prof. Ege had graduated from the University of Chicago Law School.  A white, law student at “Georgia” referred to the homeowners, in the case as, “niggers.”

            He had pushed the “wrong button.”  Amid a class of one hundred fifty law students, I dared him to use “nigger” again.  “If I heard anyone use ‘nigger’ I am going to whip you myself.” The classroom went completely quiet.  The students proceeded straight to the dean’s office.  They had had enough.

            Dean Cowan and Col. Murray summoned me to the dean’s office.  I would only meet them off-campus.  I did not consider “my stance” a violation of university policy.  “Nigger” is a fighting word.  It has no place on a college campus.  Col. Murray saw it differently.  He said that I was “a disgrace to the Negro race.”

            Prof. Ege was also summoned to the dean’s office.  Dean Cowan informed him that all of Maddox’s professors would give Maddox’s papers to Dean Cowan for marking Prof. Ege informed me that my law school education was finished nationwide.  Law schools constitute a “secret society.”  They employ a “one and done” “rule.”

            “Bob” was unaware that Marvin Mangham and Pierre would be attending the law school. They went through an “orientation” at Duke University Law School during the summer of 1969.  Two years ago, Mangham told me that I had made a difference and that, after I left, George Busbee, a future governor of Georgia, gave him  a “private, well-furnished, office” to conduct law school business.

            Similarly, Sam “Bam” Cunningham made a difference as a running back for USC at Legion Field in Birmingham in 1970.  The USC Trojans trounced the University of Alabama.  Cunningham ran roughshod over the “Crimson Tide.” Coach Bear Bryant’s team lost it 21-42. White supremacists said that Cunningham, in one night in Birmingham, had done more to topple Jim Crow than Dr. King had done in Alabama in ten years.

            Monday night, in Tampa, FL, Clemson and Alabama met for the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship.  Both were Jim Crow schools in the 1950’s. Clemson defeated Alabama 35-31.  Both will return, in 2017, as football “powerhouses.”   In 1969, I became the BMOC.  Today, black athletes are the “Black Men On Campus.”


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