Ralph Goodman said you can't talk about black history in Pittsfield without mentioning Buddy Evans, the 1937 Pittsfield High graduate who was not just a three-sport standout at the school but a four-sport star. Evans, it was allowed back in the day, competed in track and baseball during the spring season. He held at the time, the Berkshire County record in the 100-meter.
Goodman, as did many readers, checked in over the past few days following last week's column about local black history. And since it's still February, then it's still Black History Month. So, let's put some more on your plate before March hangs up its coat and hat and visits for a spell.
Goodman, a Pittsfield lifer whose family ran Goodman's grocery store on lower Peck's Road, will turn 93 in June. He graduated from PHS in 1938 and remembers Evans as a great athlete and an even better person. Evans' basketball teammates backed that up one March evening in the spring of 1937.
Pittsfield High had been invited to compete in the New England High School Basketball Championships in Brattleboro, Vt., and on the first night there it was PHS coach Charles "Chuck" Stewart who took the remaining white players aside and asked them to draw straws to see who would have to room with Evans.
"That wasn't so much about Stewart as it was about the times we were living in," said Goodman, who was close friends with many members of the team. "The players told Stewart he had it wrong. They told him that it would be up to Evans to choose who his roomate would be. A lot of those guys were teammates of Buddy's in football and baseball. He was well-respected and just a great guy."
Evans, said Goodman, died of a ruptured appendix at the age of 20 while a student at the Massachusetts School of Agriculture (now University of Massachusetts).
Born of a Russian father and Polish mother, Goodman lived atop the family store and was raised in the Jewish faith. He had to walk along the "Polish Corridor" that was Wahconah Street en route to the synagogue he attended in the city's West Side.
Pittsfield was segregated in a sense when Goodman was growing up. The Irish, Polish, Italians, Germans and others all lived in one part of Pittsfield or another. And if you were a young Irish lad courting a pretty Polish girl, then caution best not be thrown to the wind.
That, said Goodman, was tricky stuff in those days. Those first generation immigrants were adamant about keeping their cultires alive, and that meant no marrying outsiders.
But it was nothing compared to what Goodman encountered after his years serving as an interpretor in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was honorably discharged not long after the Japanese surrendered. He did his paperwork at Fort Monroe in Virginia.
That same day he boarded a stopped bus from the rear door. Standing in front of him was another soldier, a black soldier, who had previously entered the bus from the front and made his way expectedly to the back.
Goodman was standing, he said, between the black soldier and the back of the bus. He understood the big picture and admittedly felt awkward.
A "little white woman," Goodman recalled, was sitting nearby and mumbling. Goodman said the words were unmistakenly clear.
"I could hear her," he said. "She kept saying ‘[Negro]-lover' over and over Goodman said he blew a gasket.
"This black soldier," he said, "was wearing a purple heart with two stars. That meant he had been wounded twice. I walked up to that woman and told her that the black soldier had taken two pieces of lead in his black [butt] so that he could help save her dainty little white [butt].
Added Goodman, "I was scared. I was in the South. They were still fighting the Civil War, they are now. But I have to say that all these years later I still feel good about it."
It was mentioned here last week that Don Morehead, the excellent three-sport athlete from Pittsfield High who graduated in 1950, was the only black student to have been named president of his Pittsfield High senior class. I've mentioned that before with no response to guide me elsewhere. But, I did get response this week, so I think we need to amend the facts.
Readers have indicated that two others apparently fell into this category and both attained that honor within a decade of each other.
Richard Kennedy was class president at PHS in 1968, they say, while Ron Jennings was the top dog under the dome in 1975. Anybody know where these guys are and what they're doing? Let me know.
Brian Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.