You probably know about the accomplishments of UTEP's 1966 championship basketball team but you may not know about Charles Brown.
October 26, 1996
El Paso Times
He strolled quietly, unobtrusively through the campus ... pointing out where a class or a building used to be 40 years ago. Today's students scurry from class to class, scarcely noticing the man.
He is older now, settling in at 63 for the moment. The beard is more salt than pepper. But he is still lean and he moves with the grace and dignity that, to the trained eye, are dead giveaways that he was once a talented athlete.
But Charles Brown was much more than just a talented athlete. The man is far too complex for such a one-dimensional label. But, make no mistake, Charlie Brown could play some basketball.
From 1956 until his graduation in 1959, Brown led Texas Western in scoring and rebounding. He also led the old Border Conference, a league with Arizona and Arizona State and Texas Tech, to name a few.
He still ranks 12th on UTEP's all-time scoring list with 1,170 points. He ranks fourth all-time among those who played three years or less - trailing only such Miner luminaries as Antoine Gillespie, Nate Archibald and Jim Barnes.
Oh, he could really play, said UTEP coach Don Haskins, who saw Brown play for the Miners when Haskins was still a high school coach in west Texas. He was a great player; an exciting player. And he could jump three feet off the floor.
Arkansas coach and former UTEP player Nolan Richardson remembers: He was my idol. During those days, there weren't any black players we could go see on that level. So I went to see him every chance I got.
Despite such an impressive athletic resume, it is something else that sets Charles Brown apart. He was the first black athlete at UTEP. He was also the first in a major sport at a major university in Texas and the first in the states that made up the old Confederacy.
Charles Brown has come back to UTEP for homecoming, some 40 years since he enrolled at Texas Western. He was not the first black student at Texas Western. Thelma White owns that honor, enrolling in September of 1955. But Brown was the first athlete and obviously the most visible.
Memories, memories, memories, said Brown, smiling and looking around the campus. They say history repeats itself. Well, it certainly does in your mind.
Brown walked into old Holiday Hall, just behind Kidd Field. He studied the place from top to bottom. There is still a gym floor, but no longer any baskets.
This is where we practiced, he said, smiling. Holiday Hall. But it was no holiday when you walked in here. I'm sore already, just thinking about it.
Brown walked outside and looked at Kidd Field.
Spent a lot of time running up and down the stadium and around the track, he said, shaking his head.
Brown moved away from El Paso a couple of years after finishing his playing career. While he was widely accepted on the Texas Western campus, he was still a black man living in a southern state when he left the campus. He was unable to get very far into the coaching profession in El Paso, so he moved to San Francisco.
This is a man who received his bachelor's degree in education from UTEP in three years. He got a Master's degree from San Francisco State. He also picked up a two-year computer degree from the University of California-Berkeley. He is retired now, but he spent more than 20 years as a top-level administrator in the San Francisco Public School System.
Still, 40 years ago, Brown was a barrier breaker. Most young people think this is something that happened back around the Civil War. But it happened in Charles Brown's lifetime. It happened to Charles Brown.
I was not allowed to live in the dormitories at that time, he said. I came here with my nephew Cecil Brown. We got a room near the campus. But George McCarty got us a dorm room, a place we could study after practice. We just didn't sleep there much.
McCarty, now retired in Albuquerque, said, We tried to work things out. I didn't do that much. I was just trying to have a good basketball team and Charlie was a good player. He was a good player and a good citizen.
If anything really bothers me, it's that George McCarty doesn't get the credit for moving forward in this area, Brown said. I had his support - not only in public, but in private. One doesn't always follow the other.
Brown laughs about a story he heard recently, about a team meeting McCarty called before he reached the campus.
Long-time Irvin High coach Alvis Glidewell (now retired) said, That's been more than a day or two ago. I think Coach McCarty told us he was bringing Charlie in and about the only comment was something like `is he a player or can he play or can he shoot. Charlie is just an amazing person. He seemed to fit in from the first day he arrived.
Brown continued strolling through the campus, so much of it that was just dirt and rocks and mountain when he first came here. He remembered good times on campus. Away? Another story.
I never had a problem with my teammates, Brown said. I was accepted right away. Alvis Glidewell met me in June and we used to come here to Holiday Hall and shoot baskets every day. One day, Alvis told me he would treat me to a movie after we finished. He went up and bought the tickets, but they wouldn't let me in. So we just left. I never tried to go to another movie while I was here.
You've got to realize that El Paso was still a southern city, Brown said. It was much like the rest of the south, yet it was really probably much better than most.
It was, obviously, much more difficult when the Miners played out of town. And, he was the only target.
There was pressure, he admitted. It was a lot of pressure. The pressure became greater every year. It should have been the opposite. But it wasn't.
The racial taunts were always difficult to contend with and Brown remembers Texas Tech as being the worst. But, he not only survived. He flourished.
McCarty was quoted in the El Paso Times back in 1958: I don't mind telling you that Brown is the most popular athlete here in any sport.
El Pasoan Henry Jurado remembers: He was so popular in school, such a very likable person. He was such a great player, but it was his personality that made it where he could fit in anywhere he went.
Brown continues to stroll the campus, to enjoy the beautiful autumn day, to relish the memories - good and bad.
Forty years is a long time and perspective gets fogged over such a span. But to clarify, Jerry LeVias played football for SMU in 1966 - the first black scholarship athlete in the Southwest Conference. Nat Worthington played football for Kentucky in 1967 - the first black athlete in the Southeastern Conference.
Yet, there was Charlie Brown playing and starring for Texas Western a full 10 years before all this more publicized activity.
I think it's important people remember and know about these things, Brown said.
He walks on, quietly moving through the campus and the students of the 1990's - moving gracefully through an area he helped change so much for the better.
Born: April 7, 1934, in Longview, Texas.
Milestone: First black athlete at UTEP, then Texas Western.
Playing career: Played basketball with Air Force in U.S., the Philippines, Mexico and Australia; played at Amarillo Junior College; played three years, Texas Western (1956-59); All-Border Conference pick; 12th all-time leading scorer at UTEP.
Education: Atlanta, Texas, High School; bachelor's degree in physical education, Texas Western; master's degree in education administration, San Francisco State; two-year computer degree, University of California-Berkeley.
Career: Two years teaching and coaching at Jefferson High; five years teaching in San Francisco Public School System; more than 20 years in San Francisco school system, working on special projects, educating teachers to use computers in the classroom; working with a team of administrators to accredit school systems in California.