Before last night’s mass shooting, I had always identified the city of El Paso, Texas with a monumental moment in time in both the histories of race relations and sports in America. That moment in time was the March 19, 1966 NCAA Championship final basketball game between the Texas Western University Miners, now the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), and the University of Kentucky Wildcats.
I was then 16 years old, and I remember vividly how Jim Crow racism was very much a factor in American college sports, with many southern universities barring African-American college age athletes from admission, let alone varsity athletic participation. The University of Kentucky Wildcat basketball team was very much a quintessential example of this. Coached by Adolph Rupp, a first rate virulent racist, the Wildcats never admitted an African-American basketball player until 1970-1971.
Texas Western did have African-American players on their basketball team, but off the court, these players were treated like slaves by the university athletic department, although less so by head coach Don Haskins. In 1968, Sports Illustrated writer Jack Olsen authored a five-part series entitled “The Black Athlete – A Shameful Story”, dealing with the racism and bigotry that then subjected African-Americans to severe discrimination in both college and professional sports. One of the five segments in the series, entitled “In an Alien World,” (https://www.si.com/vault/1968/07/15/611265/in-an-alien-world) detailed the horrific treatment given by the Texas Western athletic department to the university’s black athletes.
But Americans who watched the game were largely unaware of this. The real significance of the night was that against a lily-white Kentucky team, featuring Pat Riley, who later coached championship Los Angeles Laker teams, the Texas Western Miners were playing ONLY black players. All five Miner starters and the two reserves were African-Americans.
On that night of March 19, 1966, the Kentucky Wildcats were heavily favored to win. The game was played at the Cole Field House on the University of Maryland campus.
Texas Western scored a 72-65 upset victory, which spurred the integration of varsity basketball and football teams throughout the South. The historic significance of that night was magnificently described on the 25th anniversary of the game in a Sports Illustrated article by Curry Kirkpatrick , “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”(https://www.si.com/vault/1991/04/01/123894/the-night-they-drove-old-dixie-down-in-1966-an-all-black-lineup-from-texas-western-beat-all-white-kentucky-for-the-ncaa-title-college-hoops-hasnt-been-the-same-since).
Indeed, it can be said without hyperbole that the domination of basketball, college and professional by African-Americans had its origin in that Texas Western victory.
The city of El Paso then had a very small African-American population (2%} and a much larger Mexican-American constituency (45%). Because of the revelations of discrimination against UTEP African-Americans in the Jack Olsen article, El Paso, rightly or wrongly had a racist reputation for many years.
Over time, however, El Paso became a national model of racial and ethnic tolerance, as exemplified by the remarkably humane behavior of its residents towards refugees coming across the border. El Paso, however is not an island.
Throughout the rest of America, White Nationalism is a most malignant cancer destroying the social fabric of our nation. It now has an enabler and advocate in Donald Trump, the most outrageously racist president to sit in the White House since Woodrow Wilson.
A vile White Nationalist drove ten hours yesterday from Allen, Texas to El Paso with the goal of killing Mexicans. He murdered twenty people, for whom America mourns today. Only one week ago, FBI Director Christopher Wray identified white nationalism as the major cause of domestic terrorism.
White nationalist ideology and white nationalists are at the core of the Trump movement. Donald Trump has always said with relish the words “Muslim terrorists” when referring to terrorists from the Middle East. Do you think he will use the words “White Nationalist Terrorist” in describing the killer of the El Paso residents? Don’t hold your breath.
Indeed, Donald Trump bears direct responsibility for the El Paso killings. Beto O’Rourke formerly represented El Paso in the United States House of Representatives. While I am not a supporter of his presidential campaign, he described with supreme accuracy the responsibility of Trump for the Texas killings:
“We’ve had a rise in hate crimes every single one of the last three years during an administration where you have a president who’s called Mexican rapists and criminals. Though Mexicans commit crimes at far lower rates than those born in this country, he has tried to make us afraid of them to some real effect and consequence. Attempting to ban all Muslims from this one the day he signed the executive order, the mosque in Victoria, TX was burned to the ground. Those chants that we heard in Greenville, NC — ‘Send her back,’ talking about our fellow American citizens, duly elected to represent their constituents in the Congress, who happen to be women of color. “
“He is a racist, and he stokes racism in this country. And it does not just offend our sensibilities, it fundamentally changes the character of this country, and it leads to violence. And again, there are still details that we are waiting on, but I’m just following the lead that I’ve heard from the El Paso Police Department where they say there are strong indications that this shooter wrote that manifesto and this was inspired by his hatred of people here in this community.”
Yet unfortunately, we have far more violence to fear in Donald Trump’s America.
Donald Trump will lose the election of 2020. Yet he will label the news of the results as “fake news” and refuse to leave office. As former Trump Organization fixer Michael Cohen said in his Congressional testimony, “Indeed, given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power, and this is why I agreed to appear before you today.”
If Trump refuses to leave office, blood will flow in our streets. We have experience Trump- enabled killings in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh and El Paso, and we don’t know yet what role White Nationalism may have played in the actions of the Dayton killer. The violence that could follow a Trump refusal to leave office would foster a Constitutional crisis and a state of domestic unrest just short of a civil war.
Today, we once again mourn for victims of Trump- enabled White Nationalist Terrorism in America. And we can only pray for a peaceful end to the Trumpian nightmare that presently imperils the future of our nation.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.