November 29, 2014 by FOX6 — There they were on the day after Thanksgiving — together as one, and in some cases, for the first time in 55 years! “It is so wonderful to see these fellas again. We grew up together. Sometimes we pushed each other around, but it was nothing ever that you would be angry about to hold a grudge, you know,” Roosevelt Moore, who played on the 1959 Lincoln High School basketball team said.
In 1959, during the height of segregation and racial tension in America, two predominantly black Milwaukee Public Schools high school basketball teams — North Division and Lincoln made history by becoming the first two Milwaukee teams to play for the state championship. It wouldn’t happen again until 40 years later. Lincoln won the game 65-56, but in reality, everyone won. “After I grew up a little bit, I realized the community won more than just the two of us,” Andrew Chesser, who played for that Lincoln team said.
“I really honestly believe that gave an emphasis for Marquette and other schools around to start becoming basketball powers, but the first basketball player that Al McGuire recruited was from North Division,” Dr. Harry Oden, who played for North Division said.
While the winds of racial prejudice swirled among them, basketball became a safe haven, as did families, friends and school. Dan Davis says the old Lincoln High School was a melting pot. “There was genuine respect, from the teachers down through the student body, and never once did I ever see a racial fight. Not once,” Dan Davis, who played for Lincoln High School said. “In the state championship when we got out on the floor, there were nine blacks and myself between the two teams to start the thing, but we didn’t think about it. We shared water bottles. We shared the same towels,” Guy Vance, who played for Lincoln said.
But there was no escaping prejudice. Dr. Harry Oden experienced it as one of the first two black players recruited by the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He became MVP, All-Conference, team captain and a Hall of Famer. Clifton Owens can empathize from his own college experience. “There were only two African-Americans in the school and they wouldn’t let us live together because people would think they forced us to live together. I had one desire and that was to finish college. I said ‘I can take anything for four years,’” Owens, who played for Lincoln said.
Marvin Fuller played for North Division. He eventually became a Milwaukee police officer. He remembers black officers had to walk beats until a captain named Otto Kramer stepped up and determined they should be given cars. “He was known as the ‘N-word lover’ because he took the initiative that we was just as qualified as the next guy and we all ended up assigned to cars. All seven of us,” Fuller said. Through it all, the North Division and Lincoln players survived and thrived because of firm foundations.
“My grandma and my grandfather raised me and you didn’t talk back. You didn’t stay out until after dusk, dark. We had to abide by those rules or else. I believe that had a lot to do with me nowadays,” Ed Cobb, who played for Lincoln said. Al Jackson was a sophomore on the Lincoln team. He went on to be team captain and win another state championship. As assistant coach under Jim Gosz at Milwaukee King High School, Jackson has been a huge part of the Generals’ success. Their hallmark is discipline — something he feels is sorely lacking today.
“Somewhere we dropped the ball, and it’s something wrong with society when kids can’t be disciplined. All kids are looking for discipline. They want that. If you give them discipline, later on they find that somebody cares about them,” Jackson said. The Fresh Coast Classic recently paid special tribute to the 1959 North-Lincoln state championship teams.