When news of former Richmond Senior and East Carolina coach Ed Emory’s death began to circulate, former players, colleagues and friends shared stories and remembrances.
Even though his tenure at Jesse W. Grainger High School in Kinston was brief, Emory made a Paul Bunyon-like impression on several students there. Grainger was Emory’s first stop after graduating from ECU and served as the school’s tennis coach, drivers education instructor and was an assistant football coach. One of his former players recalled him as “the biggest man we had ever seen…250 pounds with calves the size of barrels.”
Ryan Baucom related the story about Emory ripping up a Douglas Byrd T-shirt after the Raiders avenged a loss to the Eagles was priceless. The former Richmond quarterback laughingly recalled seeing this former collegiate All-American lineman doing his best imitation of Hulk Hogan to destroy the maroon shirt with yellow lettering.
These are just two of what was probably several thousand tales which were told this weekend in Emory’s memory.
However, there is one story which should be shared time and time again.
While coaching in Anson County in the 1960s, Emory was forced to go head-to-head with members of the Ku Klux Klan. Even though professional sports had been integrated since the 1940s and 50s, high school athletics in the South was a different story.
A Sports Illustrated article from Oct. 3, 1966 called Anson County a “hotbed of KKK activity” after automobiles and buildings were destroyed in rising racial tensions.
But Emory stood his ground and did what he thought was right.
When five of his African-American players wanted to quit the squad because of a teammate joining the Klan, Emory confronted the young man. The player admitted to riding his motorcycle through the African-American section of Wadesboro with his KKK robe, but added he didn’t know what he was doing. Emory gave the young man an ultimatum, the Klan or the team.
He selected the team.
That wasn’t the end of the story because a few days later the young man’s father, who was a leading Klansman, and a few others visited Emory at practice. The father told Emory he didn’t have the right to make his son choose. Emory fired back it was within his bounds because his football was a dictorship, not a democracy and “I’ve told my boys that when they put on their uniforms they’re all the same.”
Things appeared to have cooled off until the father’s youngest son was caught stealing the shirt of an African-American teammate, who would later become a professional wrestler known as The Junkyard Dog.
The father stormed into Emory’s office and verbally assaulted the coach. Emory had enough and punched the player’s father in the face. Emory offered to resign after the altercation, but his supervisors wouldn’t hear of it. And there wasn’t anymore trouble from the KKK as long as “Big Ed” was around.
That suited Emory just fine because all he wanted to do was coach football and make a difference in his players’ lives.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.