First Bell
2:54 am
Mon April 21, 2014

First Bell: In a Time of Racial Tension, Quarterback's Team Wasn't With Him

Eric Reed as a young first lieutenant with his wife Julia at a military officers function in 1989 at an Army base in Garlsted, Germany. They went to Istrouma High School together.
Credit Courtesy of Eric Reed

The First Bell series is a growing collection of stories from students, parents, and educators about pivotal experiences in education. To tell your story, email amy@wrkf.org with "My First Bell" in the subject line or tweet with the hashtag #MyFirstBell.

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Eric Reed was the first black quarterback at his elementary, middle, and high school when the Baton Rouge public schools were being integrated.

Epithets were used against him more than once.

Reed’s junior year at predominantly white Istrouma High School, 1974, was a turning point. The night after a race riot at the school, the football team played the last game of the regular season against all-black McKinley.

“Anytime Istrouma played McKinley, I happened to be the target of a lot of trash talk, because I’m the one who didn’t go to McKinley or Capitol, I chose to go to Istrouma, so I was -- the term they used back then -- the ‘oreo’, you know, I sold out.”

Both teams needed the win to get to the playoffs, but Reed says he didn’t have the usual fire in his belly. Istrouma lost 7 to 6.


There was another incident that year where we were at a pep rally.

The football team at Istrouma always sat in the gym, you know, they had chairs for us. The cheerleaders had us get up as a team and go cheer at the different sections.

We all got up and cheered the senior section, the junior section, came to the sophomore section and cheered.

We all got up and cheered the senior section, the junior section, came to the sophomore section and cheered. By now, all of us are hyped up -- know I was -- and we were running to the black section, and the team did not come.

By now, all of us are hyped up — I know I was — and we’re running to the black section, and the team didn’t come. I had about four of my teammates that showed up.

Once we finished the cheering, guys went to go sit down, and I sat in the middle of the gym floor. And my sitting in the middle of the gym floor — I didn’t do it for anything other than, I was confused, you know, some of the guys I’d been with in elementary school and junior high didn’t come over there. So I was like, ok, I thought these guys were my buddies … but they’re not really, or they’re afraid. So there were a lot of questions.

At that moment I had an awakening. Prior to then my eyes had been — I don’t want to say closed, but I hadn’t been focused on social issues, you know.

Needless to say, that off season I started preparing, but in the preparation there was some other stuff added. I started reading, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, I started getting into Black Panther information. I grew an afro, I mean the biggest one I could grow.

That off season, I started reading, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, I started getting into Black Panther information. I grew an afro, I mean the biggest one I could grow.

I came out of high school with an appointment to the Naval Academy. I had offers from Kansas State, Rice, Tulane, even had nibblings from the Coast Guard. But I chose to attend Southern University.

I was not going to make another decision that would question, you know, who I was.

Eric Reed has gone on to coach at several schools in Baton Rouge, including historically black McKinley High.

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The First Bell series is a growing collection of stories from students, parents, and educators about pivotal experiences in education. To tell your story, email amy@wrkf.org with "My First Bell" in the subject line or tweet with the hashtag #MyFirstBell.