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Bill Russell Joins Civil Rights Fight in Mississippi

July 8, 1964 - Big Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics flies to Jackson, Miss., tomorrow morning to champion the cause of the “little” people.

The 6-10 center (pictured right with Kenneth Guscott, head of the Boston NAACP) will attempt to conduct integrated basketball clinics during his four-day tour through Jackson, Canton, Meridian, and Clarksdale as part of the NAACP’s “Operation Mississippi.”

“Sports fans accept an athlete on face value, not on the color of his skin,” said Russell. “Because of this I am hoping to get cooperation from city officials in securing basketball facilities for the clinics.”

Russell is going to Mississippi at the request of Charles Evers of the Jackson branch of the NAACP.

“I intend to take part in rallies,” Russell said, “and if Mr. Evers asks me to participate in demonstrations, then I will. I have to because a man has to do what he thinks is right.”

Russell, who recently returned from a six-week State Department tour creating “goodwill” behind the Iron Curtain, says that “goodwill” is the object of this trip.

“Any kids, black or white who want to talk to me about basketball will be obliged,” said Russell. “I will be down there doing the best I can.”

Traveling with Russell will be Marvin Gilmore (left), chairman of the NAACP’s Boston branch.

It is believed that Russell’s trip will be the first venture into the South by an athlete hoping to aid integration by actual participation in sports.

In his eight-year NBA career, during which he has led the Celtics to seven championships and has established countless league records, Russell has experienced difficulty when traveling in the South.

He refused to play in an exhibition game two years ago in Kentucky where a hotel refused to provide accommodations and dining facilities for him and the other Negroes on the team.

Russell also has declined to play in exhibition games in Virginia and in the Carolinas, where, again, he was refused lodging and meals with the other members of the Celtics.

The 30-year-old graduate of the University of San Francisco revealed that, a few years ago, he traveled through the state of Mississippi by automobile.

“And I was stopped three times,” he said, “but not by police. People were looking for my autograph.”

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