It’s known as one of the most shameful chapters in the history of the United States.
For Wayne D. Casey, author of new memoir, ‘Breaking In: The Author of a New Era’, it was all he knew while growing up in 1950s West Virginia.
Battling racism from all sides, Casey made the brave choice to do what no one had done before – and break the color line. After integrating into the all-white Mark Twain High School, he became the first black player to start at the quarterback position – a position that black students were told they were not smart enough to play. Although Casey’s actions exposed him to abuse, ridicule and even threats of death, he soldiered on, knowing that he would be on the right side of history.
‘Breaking In: The Author of a New Era’ is reminiscent of other powerful stories like ‘Remember the Titans’ and ‘12 Years of Slave’ – all vibrant pieces that make up the patchwork of African-American history. For the author, it is vital that he tell his story.
"We paved the way, essentially," says Casey. "There are a lot of unrecorded firsts like mine that deserve recognition. When I walked through the doors of Mark Twain High School, I sent a message – and sometimes, I thought I would be killed for that message. I laid the groundwork for other black kids who may not have been able to integrate, or may have been too terrified to break the color line. Challenging the system was the best thing that I ever did."
In the summer before his freshman year, Wayne Casey could think of nothing but joining the elite rank of athletes at Byrd Prillerman High School. The all-black school was the alma mater of his seven older siblings, and Wayne in the family tradition planned to be the eighth Casey to walk the halls of Byrd High. But something happened. Over 55 years later, still no one can explain or understand how it happened. Jim Crow was still king, even if his legal status had been officially revoked. Everyone simply knew the rules. No niggers allowed. The Supreme Court had ruled two years earlier that segregation in the schools was unlawful and unconstitutional. The order was to desegregate. But no stipulation had been made as to when. The Superintendent of Schools in Raleigh County, West Virginia encouraged his schools to ease into integration with due caution and a lack of haste. But Wayne Casey wondered why everyone seemed to be dragging their feet. So he used his to do what no other black child had ever done in Raleigh County, West Virginia before. He broke the color line.
Since its publication, the book has earned rave reviews.
"This book should encourage anyone who has doubts about their capabilities. A very touching book. I grew up in the north never knowing the treatment people in the South had to go thru now I have a better understanding that makes me very upset, I’m glad Wayne came through the fire. This is a book everyone should read," wrote MZHONPIE.
Deborah McCray was equally moved by the story, writing: "Told of a true story of how it really was in the 50’s as one young black boy just tried to play ball on his own merit and not because of the color of his skin. Loved it."
Calling the book "eye-opening", FlaNette wrote: "This book was bitter sweet for me. I understood the racism, but did not experience it like that in my part of the country. I think more young people need to read this to understand some of our past history from one person’s account of life during periods leading up to de-segregation.