DuSable High School’s Coach Brown
March 10th, 2010Filed under: Stories
Coach Jim Brown from the 1955 DuSable High School yearbook
Working here at the Museum, I have the privilege of meeting a lot of interesting people. These folks share their fascinating pasts with me, connecting their personal stories to Chicago history. I’m proud to call one of these people a dear friend; he was Coach Jim Brown who died March 2nd at the age of 90.
Coach Brown led the famous 1954 DuSable High School basketball team to the Illinois state championship game against downstate Mt. Vernon. Through a series of questionable calls, DuSable lost 76-70. Coach Brown’s Panthers played a freelancing style that wowed fans and typically befuddled opponents. They entered the Mt. Vernon game undefeated at 31-0.
Coach Brown was the first African American coach to take an all-African American team to the Illinois state final. To understand the significance of this you have to remember the context. The Mt. Vernon game took place weeks before the announcement of the U. S. Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision desegregating schools. Throughout much of the 1953-54 season, violent riots raged on the Southeast Side at the Chicago Housing Authority’s Trumbull Park Homes as some white residents resisted the development’s integration. It was not an easy time to do what Coach Brown and his team did. Coach Brown was humble about these accomplishments—always wanting to focus on this team of young talented men and not his coaching abilities.
I got to know Coach Brown several years ago after the Museum did an exhibition about Chicago sports that included the DuSable story. He warmly invited me into his home to share his memories. I sat in his study stacked high with stereo equipment and jazz records, tapes, and CDs while he showed me pictures and clippings documenting his life.
He blew his coach’s whistle one last time and showed me his red satin coach’s jacket before donating both to the Museum. Through this first meeting, the Museum received a fabulous collection of his papers. One of my favorites is the telegram he received not long after the Mt. Vernon game. It came from an irate Chicago lawyer who wanted to sue the referees for their late game calls.
Over the next few years, I tried to visit Coach Brown and his wife, Charity Randolph, as much as I could. In 2004, we managed to pull together a group of former players and DuSable alumni for a 50th anniversary celebration. It was great to see him with his former players and the event provided a chance for some well-known sports writers to honor him that day. During our chats, he’d often give me updates on his former players and students. Many stayed in touch or said hello when they’d see him. Out of all my visits what I remember most, though, is his spirit and his willingness to share his life with me. He will be missed.
If you have memories of Coach Brown or that great 1954 DuSable team, please share them. Or share your memories of a teacher or coach who had a positive impact on you.