For former CSU football hall-of-famer Gregory Primus life was full of racial tension. But this year marks a change for the better after the first black president of the United States took office.
Speaking to a crowd of about 100 students, teachers and athletes Thursday night, Primus contrasted how racial history affected him and his family throughout his childhood and his career with the Rams with this year’s break in racial barriers.
Black Student Services brought Primus to CSU as part of the university’s celebration of Black History Month.
When the black former wide receiver, who made his mark on the Rams football team when he was inducted into the Alma Mater Hall of Fame in 2003, was in the second grade he attended an integrated school of black and white children in the late 1970’s.
His teacher had assigned readings for classes, but he didn’t get the correct curriculum for his grade level, he told the Collegian in an interview this week.
He walked through the local library with his mom and saw the book he was assigned in class. He pointed out the book to his mother, and when she looked at the book she noticed it was of first-grade reading level.
His mother went to the school to talk with Primus’ teacher about the book. The teacher explained that the class was divided into two levels of reading, one for slower readers and one for faster readers.
But, he said, his mother realized that all of the kids in the slow reading level were black and all the kids in the fast reading level were white.
Since that time, though, Primus said, the U.S. made its biggest step last year toward healing racial wounds and accepting minorities, when it decided that it was ready for Barack Obama to be president.
“Every step (toward equality) is a huge milestone,” Primus said. “This is a huge leap. This is a position I think a lot of black people thought was impossible.”
In Washington D.C., Primus watched Obama take the oath of office with his family behind a group of Tuskegee Airmen, who were the first blackmilitary airmen.
“It’s awesome,” he said in the Collegian interview of the experience. “It’s awe inspiring to have a president a lot of people feel good about and trust. . It was the Super Bowl, the Rose Bowl, and Mardi Gras all wrapped in one.”
Primus said having Obama in office brings a new “freshness” to the country, adding that the Obama brand of politics brings a new level of intelligence to Washington.
“He was elected based on qualification, pedigree and credentials,” Primus said. “He was overqualified compared to previous presidencies. People voted for him because of who he was, not because he was black.”
Primus’ address to students focused on change, the now-household concept of Obama’s presidential campaign, lauding the efforts of people who broke racial barriers like the Tuskegee Airmen and Obama.
But he also praised the not-so-well-known heroes who brought black issues into the limelight.
One such person is John Mosley, who in 1939 became the first black student on the CSU football team and went on to fly for the Tuskegee Airmen.
Primus called Mosley “an old CSU hero.”
In attendance were a range of people, including Steve Brown who managed equipment for the football team during Primus’ tenure on the football team and said the hall-of-famer was an integral force on the team when he played.
“(Primus) was always a humble, soft spoken person, and a great athlete and a good student,” Brown said. “He was a popular team member and in the department.”
Current line backer Mychal Sisson said Primus’ message brought a feel of equal opportunity to CSU.
“He gives inspiration to focus equally on school and on football,” Sisson said.
And defensive end Eugene Daniels echoed Sisson’s sentiment.
“I thought it was great to hear someone who has been in our shoes,” Daniels said.
Staff writer Scott Callahan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.