Darryl Hill: now (left) and as a player for the Maryland Terrapins (right).
Hill became a football star at Gonzaga High School. He wound up at the U.S. Naval Academy, but decided to leave after his plebe year. Immediately, all the big football colleges came calling. Sheir recently met Hill in the Lincoln Theatre's lobby, where he told her about the day Maryland coach Lee Corso offered him a scholarship to play for the Terrapins.
"Moving the Chains: The Darryl Hill Story" will be presented at the Lincoln Theatre March 21.
HILL: I said, 'Coach, that's all well and good but you forgot what conference you play in. You play in the Atlantic Coast Conference –- segregated, no blacks allowed.' So he said, 'Well, that's just the point. You were the first African-American to play at a military academy, and only African-American on the high school team, and you're a good student and an outstanding football player so we think we've got the right guy to break down the walls of segregation in football in the South.'
And I thought about it for a minute and I said, 'You know, Coach, I just want to play football, get a degree, hopefully maybe a shot at the NFL, and maybe not need all this sideline circus that's going to be surrounding me if I have come to Maryland.' Well, he persevered and others in the civil rights movement, including Dr. King, urged me to do this. So I did and I'm tremendously glad that I did.
SHEIR: Did that sideline circus come to be?
HILL: The sideline circus was always there in the South, you know. Our very first game in the South was against University of South Carolina, who had said when Maryland signed me that they weren't going to play Maryland if I was on the team, as did Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina. They both said, look, we'll drop out of the conference if need be. So it was a big fight at the ACC.
So we go down to South Carolina, they did play the game after all and it was a night game.
It rained all day, you know, and we get there the fans, football and South, was God. There was no Southern professional football team. The Washington Redskins was the southernmost pro team. So the college teams were the stars and the stadiums in which these schools play were the temples in which this god of football was worshiped.
So as far as the fans were concerned, they saw any black player going in there, it's desecrating their temple. And so in the stands there were people walking around with white hooded outfits on and carrying nooses and all kinds of Confederate flags...So we played the game and, you know, without incident and the players were fine.
Well, in a general sense, the young men in the South, even though they were raised about the separation of races, I don't think they liked all of this circus that was going on with the fans. I think that they would prefer that we got on with the game and played football. So I never really was cursed or I never felt that any southern player was unnecessarily roughing me...because of my race.
SHEIR: So when the Atlantic Conference finally integrated, how did you feel?
HILL: Well, I'll tell you that I guess the proudest, two moments happened, you know. At the end of the season, I walked off the field at Clemson University and I was being interviewed in the locker room and the sportscaster said, well, ladies and gentlemen, segregation in college sports died today. And that was poignant.
Clemson, which is one of my staunchest opponents, they wanted to drop out. They didn't want to play. But not many years later, Clemson winds up winning the national championship and I just recall when they flashed a picture of the starting lineup, that almost every single player, including the quarterback, was black.
So I said, wow, how fast do things change? And that made me feel good because that made me reflect back on what it took to get there. I mean, they obviously would've gotten there anyway, but I think, you know, Maryland stood up and stepped forward and I think they need to get the recognition for doing that. A lot of other schools try to lay claim to integrated efforts, you know, like Alabama and Bear Bryant, false.
Maryland was way before Alabama even thought about bringing a black player. I mean, I came in '62. Bear Bryant didn't bring in a black player 'til 1970. So, you know, I kind of want to make sure that, you know, Maryland is recognized for what it is and what it did.