It’s easy to forget sometimes how we got where we are today, 2019. How good we have it, you know? The world tries to tell us how hard it is out there and then you hear a man — a real grown man — speak to you.
Really speak to you.
We had that chance on Sunday afternoon at Hudl, and you wonder if every athlete in the state — with their iPhones, and game film on their laptop and personal trainers for some — needed to hear what Albert Maxey was putting down.
Because it was that good.
Celebrating it’s 25th year in January 2020, Lincoln’s Pete Ferguson has been promoting Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” with youth in his community as part of his position working with students through Lincoln Public Schools. It’s a simple thing, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Rally & March.
As part of an extended celebration this year in honor of the 25th event, Ferguson and his planning committee are organizing various local speakers who were directly impacted by King. Maxey was first on the list — a long time Lincoln police officer who was side-by-side with King during a 1964 trip to Lincoln while he gave a speech at Pershing Auditorium.
An Indiana native, Maxey came to Lincoln as a teenager and never left. Recruited out of Indianapolis’ Crispus Attucks High School by Nebraska basketball assistant Tony Sharpe, Maxey was one of the top basketball players in the state of Indiana and country in 1957.
Yeah, you can take his story directly to the movie Hoosiers.
His teammate was Oscar Robertson. In 1954, Maxey did not play as freshman, but Robertson and his teammates lost in the round of eight to eventual champions Milan (the fictional Hickory the movie). Crispus Attucks was loosely based on Hickory’s finals opponent South Bend Central, in fact, Maxey’s high school coach — Ray Crowe — is the Bears coach in the movie.
In 1955, Maxey and Robertson teamed up to win the one-class Indiana state title. Did the same in 1956 going undefeated. They were the first all-black team in the history of the nation to win a state championship in any sport.
“They made us play all of our games in Butler Field House,” Maxey said of the Indianapolis public school system. “We played every game in front of 10-12,000 people.”
When Maxey was a senior, in 1957, Crispus Attucks lost in the state semifinals. Maxey was inducted in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in the early 1990s.
So he knows a little bit about hard work, team work and doing what is right. He’s experienced it all.
Many times, Crispus Attucks played in games that most historians note were “8-on-5” referencing referees who were against Maxey, Robertson and their teammates. “Coach Crowe told us to never worry about the officiating,” he said. At Crispus Attucks — a trade school — he studied plumbing.
In the summer of 1957, Maxey was named to the prestigious Indiana All-Star Team that traveled to Louisville, KY to play the Kentucky All-Stars. He couldn’t stay or eat with his teammates.
While at Nebraska, Maxey and teammate Herschel Turner often had to eat in other establishments when they played at the University of Missouri. Later, when he was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 1961 he was told, “that they had enough Negroes on their team.”
Back to Lincoln he went to become a police officer.
He served honorably for the police force and also had a passion for drawing — he stills does today — that led him to training for suspect drawing at the FBI’s National Academy at Quantico.
“I didn’t grow up wanting to be a police officer,” he said. “I had no idea about carrying a gun or the city ordinances.”
He married his sweetheart JoAnn and they raised a family. She was a trendsetter as well: the first African-American female legislator in Nebraska, the first African-American on the Lincoln School Board and Maxey Elementary School in south Lincoln is named in her honor.
Albert Maxey looks back fondly on what King meant to him, and, more importantly, what his legacy meant to our country.
“In his time, Martin Luther King wasn’t as great as he is today,” Maxey said. “At the time I walked with him it was not that big of a deal. People like you have made (his legacy) bigger and bigger each year. And, he deserved that.
“His walk gave you and I the opportunity to have equal rights. He did it then and he is still doing it today.”
A lesson we can all learn from: big city or small town; black, brown or white, athlete, student or both.
“It gets more powerful every day of my life that I had the chance to walk with him,” Maxey said.
And, we are all a little better to learn from Albert Maxey’s walk.