Greene Part of 'Golden Years' in 1960s
The mid 1960s represented what Charlie Greene refers to as “the golden years” for black student athletes at the University of Nebraska.
One of the most decorated football players in school history, offensive guard Bob Brown, played on the first of four straight Big Eight Conference football title teams, in 1963, and earned All-American honors. He played on Nebraska’s first victorious bowl team.
Stuart Lantz twice earned first team All-Big Eight honors and scored 1,266 points over a three-year career, helping the Nebraska basketball team to a breakthrough 20-5 season in 1965-66, when the Huskers rose to a No. 8 national ranking, and to the program’s first postseason appearance in 1966-67.
And then there’s Greene, who came to Nebraska to do what he was supposed to do: Run really fast.
“In athletics, you are a student-athlete, and the reason they brought you here is to do what you did in high school, and what I did was I ran fast,” Greene said. “And they bring you here to help the team win.”
Greene won a team-record six national titles for the Huskers from 1965 through 1967. He netted NU’s first-ever individual indoor national championships by earning three consecutive 60-yard dash titles beginning in 1965. He also accomplished the feat outdoors in the 100-yard dash during the same three-year period.
A seven-time All-American and 11-time Big Eight champion, Greene tied the world record in the men’s 100-meter dash at the 1968 Kansas Relays with a time of 10.0 seconds. He also ran on the Unites States gold medal-winning 400-meter relay team in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
Unlike some other black student athletes in the 1960s, Greene came to Lincoln from a predominately white, all boys high school.
“When I came to Nebraska, I liked it here,” Greene said. “There wasn’t anything I wasn’t able to deal with. A couple of my track teammates treated me really well and they found out I could run really fast, and then they realized I could be great.”
Greene, the first men’s track and field athlete to be inducted into the Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame, in 2015, said he always had what he needed at Nebraska. He feels it’s his responsibility, especially as we celebrate Black History Month in February, to explain to the younger generation his experience at Nebraska.
“Nebraska provides African American students-athletes the opportunity to prove to yourself that you can accomplish things,” Greene said. “There are people here who are really interested in helping you, the coaches, academic services, life skills, etc. Overall, Nebraska has always been a good place for African Americans to go to school. Here you can make yourself into the man or woman that you want to be.”
When Greene came to Nebraska, he participated in ROTC, because as a land grant university, all male students were required to do so for the first two years of school. The last thing he expected, at the time, was that he wanted to be in the Army.
“But by the time I was a junior, I signed up to be an officer, and went to grad school after I graduated,” Greene said. “And then I went into the Army for the next 20 years. And it all happened because of people in Nebraska encouraged me. Being in the Army, clearly, was one of the best things that ever happened to me — other than going to the University of Nebraska.”
Greene retired as a Major, and he will tell any young people that being in the Army will “complete their education as a citizen of the nation.” Greene was stationed at the American Embassy in South Korea, in Berlin behind the iron curtain and at the United States Military Academy at West Point for five years.
“Things that I had never heard of really made a difference in my life and showed me that running fast is not the only thing in the world,” Greene said. “You have to be a citizen of the world and a citizen of America.”
Kappa Alpha Psi Helped Adjustment
Albert Maxey came to Nebraska on a basketball scholarship in 1957, along with Herschell Turner. Both were from Indianapolis, where Maxey had attended an all-black school. Adjusting to an environment that was predominately white “was a quite a chore,” Maxey said.
“If I’m walking on campus, and I’m not with my friend and teammate Herschell Turner,” Maxey said, “and I don’t see other people on campus that look like me, you are in a lost kind of world.”
The lifestyle completely changed Maxey, but he adjusted, and today says coming to Nebraska is the best thing that ever happened to him. He credited his coaches, assistant Sam Sharpe and head coach Jerry Bush, for looking after him, but also said his involvement with a fraternity played a key role.
“If it wasn’t for Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity at Nebraska, I wouldn’t have been able to meet other people outside the university that would help me keep going,” Maxey said.
For that reason, Maxey appreciated how the Athletics Department recognized the 100th anniversary of Kappa Alpha Psi in 2016. The university installed a rock with a plaque containing the history of the Eta Chapter at the south entrance to the Nebraska Union.
“For the first time in 100 years, all the students, parents and people in the stands realized what we had done,” Maxey said.
Brown is proud to say he’s been a member of Kappa Alpha Psi since Dec. 7, 1963. Greene recalls pledging for Kappa Alpha Psi when Maxey was an elder and being indoctrinated in Maxey’s house.
“Al Maxey,” Greene said, “has always been a special person for me at Nebraska.”
Maxey said he’s happy he made the choice to come to Nebraska, and stay in Nebraska. Without his experience at Nebraska, he would not have the opportunity to play in the semi-pro leagues and return to Nebraska to earn his undergraduate degree in art.
He also would not have become a lieutenant with the police department – the highest rank a black officer has held; He would not have had the opportunity to attend the FBI national academy, and he never would have been assigned to Martin Luther King Jr.'s personal guard when the civil rights leader came to Lincoln.
His late wife, JoAnn Maxey, would not have had the opportunity to serve as the first female African American state senator, and president of the Lincoln Board of Education, and she would not have subsequently had Maxey Elementary School named after her as well as the Malone Senior Center.
“Can you imagine what we went through, to run for these different offices in Lincoln, trying to get votes with a 2 percent African American population in Lincoln?” Maxey said. “You cannot do that alone. We had wonderful support outside of that color barrier.”
Sittler Family ‘Proud’
Meghan Sittler, the daughter of the late Lyle Sittler (pictured above, with Bob Hohn), read a story this week on Huskers.com on her father and grandparents welcoming Brown into their home in the 1960s. The family from Martell was the first white people Brown had spent any time with after coming to Lincoln as an 18-year old.
“It’s one of my proudest moments is hearing stories like that,” Sittler said. “It says a lot for those group of guys, Bob, my dad and (Bob) Devaney, that they really just came together. For us, my family, that’s extremely powerful to think about that time, with everything going on outside the locker room … that they found commonality and more similarities than differences.
“And you saw the results on the football field. To hear those stories that fans don’t know makes it a powerful experience for us.”
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