SPOTLIGHT: Chris Burford, '60
Courtesy Burford Family
By Paige Ricks
For Chris Burford, the invitation for dinner at his Dallas home was a casual gesture, but for Abner Haynes, it was much more. "I never told him the whole story," Haynes says. "I just loved him for it."
It was 1960 and Burford, a white man, and Haynes, a black man, were 22-year-old rookies playing football for the Dallas Texans. Haynes, who played running back, had grown up in Dallas and was one of two African-Americans to integrate the University of North Texas football team in 1956. He had been spit on and called names while he played in college, so Burford's invitation was shocking. After that dinner, Haynes stayed up for two hours telling his parents (who had never had dinner with a white person before) about his evening. "My parents had a million questions."
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and one that got special recognition last March when Burford—after a nomination by Haynes—was inducted into the African-American Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame.
Burford, a retired lawyer who lives in Reno, Nev., was a football captain at Stanford who in 1959 led the NCAA with 61 pass receptions. He was a first-round pick in the AFL draft to the Dallas Texans, a team that would move three years later to Kansas City.
To welcome the franchise to Kansas City, the team flew five players, including Burford, to a luncheon with the team owners, Kansas City officials and other VIPs. When the players went to the bar to get a beer, the bartender wouldn't serve the two black players. The mayor was on hand, so all five players approached him and told him that they would not come to Kansas City if they were going to be discriminated against. "So, they integrated that restaurant, that bar, that day," Burford says. "It changed things in Kansas City."
There were other situations. Burford remembers the first time—in a bus station in Dallas—he saw two different drinking fountains: one reading 'Colored' and the other reading 'Whites.' The team traveled to Atlanta, and the black players weren't housed at the same hotel as the rest of the team. Once, Burford told his black teammates that they, as a team, should protest segregated hotel arrangements. The black players demurred. "Come to find out Ray Charles and other leading black musicians were playing at their hotels," he says, laughing.
In the years since Burford's and Haynes's football days, they have grown even closer. "We've always been tight, we could talk and I could share with him what I was suffering from or whatever was going on," Haynes says. "We went through so much together and Chris showed me the dignity side of man."
Burford believes he was just doing the right thing. "I'm no perfect person. I liked who I did like and I didn't like who I didn't like. Skin color wasn't the issue—just the person."
PAIGE RICKS is a writer in Berkeley.
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