For Henderson High cagers, he broke the color barrier
Abdul Rasheed didn’t fully comprehend what he got himself into in 1965.
By his own admission, he was just young and cocky enough to say, “I can do this,” accepting the challenge of becoming one of the first black students at Henderson High School and the first black member of the Bulldogs’ basketball team.
Rasheed, then named Humphrey Cobb, and several other Henderson Institute students transferred to Henderson High in 1965, a year after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed racial segregation in schools.
Rasheed remembers “a couple” of black students attending Henderson High in 1964, prior to his arrival.
Rasheed was raised by his grandmother, who reluctantly approved his move to Henderson High.
Inside the walls of the white high school, the small group of black students clearly stood out.
“Some of the instructors were more tolerant,” said Rasheed. “And there were some that clearly detested the fact that we were there.”
Rasheed had been a standout athlete at Henderson Institute his freshman and sophomore years. He was confident he could adjust at Henderson High both athletically and academically.
Rasheed credits Bulldogs’ head basketball coach Pete Piestrak, a northerner, with quelling any tension that existed among the team.
Some may have feared losing playing time, Rasheed said, but most adapted to his presence. Ultimately, his acceptance was borne out his senior year when he was named a co-captain.
Rasheed encountered more resistance when Henderson High visited other gyms. He was the only black player on the floor in most games of his junior season.
“There was sheer negativity in the arena just because of who I was,” said Rasheed. “Maybe a little because of the fact that I was playing well also. But I think it was really racial in terms of just the fact that I was black.”
Rasheed recalls a game in Wake County when the crowd became so aggressive the police had to escort him out of the locker room.
“Just nasty and vicious,” Rasheed said of the verbal assault.
Those events didn’t break him. He thinks he may have been too naïve, arrogant even, to understand the potential danger that lurked.
But he did second-guess leaving his friends and a comfortable environment behind.
Rasheed turned down opportunities to play basketball at an integrated school, instead opting for Elizabeth City State University. His Vikings’ team won the school’s first Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship in 1969.
Rasheed graduated from Elizabeth City State and earned two master’s degrees. He founded the Raleigh-based N.C. Community Development Initiative, which funds projects that sustain growth in impoverished communities.
Rasheed still doesn’t understand exactly why he agreed to attend Henderson High. But he didn’t regret it, aside from longing for his friends.
It’s easier for Rasheed to see why he didn’t choose an integrated college education. He just wanted to be happy. For him, that meant returning to what he described as the “wonderful, nurturing, caring environment” of the black community.
And he doesn’t regret that choice either.
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