Albert Qualls died last week. A defensive end on OU’s great 1971 team, Qualls died in Houston at age 64. His funeral was Tuesday morning. He was a professor at Texas Southern University.
Qualls’ death prompted the following tribute from his old Sooner teammate, Dan Ruster, a safety on those great OU teams of 1971 and 1972. Ruster, who now lives in Oklahoma City, wrote the following:
“Tribute to the passing of a friend:
“A friend and former player at OU, Albert Qualls, died recently. His death brought back a memory of racism when we were both young players at OU that has never left me. It was the summer of 1970. It was the continuation of the time of peace, love and harmony, unless you were black and lived in Norman, Oklahoma.
“I am white and was from Denver, Colorado. It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore year. I went back to Denver for the summer but was offered a great paying summer job back in Norman helping install the first artificial turf in Owen (Field). There were about 30 other players and graduate students working on the project.
“When I arrived at the stadium for my first day of work, all those who did not live in Norman needed a place to live for the summer. Albert and I decided to live together. I left work early that day and went to an apartment recommended by one of the white graduate students. I signed the lease for Albert and me and went back to work and gave Albert his key. He left work that day before me and went and moved his clothes into the apartment and he went down to the pool. The next morning he got an eviction notice. Not me, just him. We went to the office and were told it was because he was black. There were five other black players working that summer that also could not find apartments to live in and had to live on campus in student housing.
“I have a team picture of our freshman team of 1969. That was when freshmen couldn’t play varsity. There are 45 players in that picture in which four were black. Three of the black players were pretty good, Greg Pruitt, Albert Chandler and Raymond Hamilton. With my experience of prejudice against Albert Qualls in the summer of 1970, I came to appreciate the courage of my three freshman teammates who chose to come, live and play football in a town where they were loved and cheered on the field but had to live with ‘Whites Only’ off the field.”
Wow. Powerful story. Thanks, Dan.
I can add a little context. I grew up in Norman. I was in the fourth grade in the autumn of 1970. I don’t remember a black kid at Kennedy Elementary School. Then I moved on to Irving Middle School in 1972, and I remember two fellow black students, Louis Williams and Evelyn Mayes. By the time I got to Norman High School in 1977, there were a few more black students, but not many.
Now, of course, Norman is a different place. But it took the dedication and pioneering of many people to get us to this point. We often think of Prentice Gautt, who broke the OU football color barrier in 1957, and Glenn King, who in 1971 became OU’s first black captain, and Kerry Jackson, who in 1972 became OU’s first black quarterback.
But lots of other players withstood some trying times. Ruster is right. Go back and look at team photos of the ’60s and early ’70s. Not that many black faces. OU is proud — and should be — of its integration record as it pertains to football, compared to other schools in states aligned with the Confederacy in the Civil War. But it wasn’t easy getting where we are.
We shouldn’t forget the dignity and determination of Albert Qualls and those who walked with him.