FanPost

Fred Milton: The Death of a Giant Killer

The following first appeared Feb. 11 as part of my column No. 53 in the new independent Portland Trail Blazers blog Pinwheel Empire. Since it directly pertains to the history of Oregon State University athletics, I thought the section might be of interest as a free-standing article here.

I hope that it is thought provoking and helps illuminate a few "blank spots" in the history of our university, town, and state.

Tim Davenport

OSU Class of 1983

Corvallis

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Fred Grady Lee Milton (1948 - 2011)

A hero of Oregon State University athletics died on Jan. 11, 2011. Fred Milton, a linebacker on the 1967 OSU football team remember to history as the "Giant Killers," passed away at his home in Portland. He was 62 years old at the time of his death.

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Milton was born on March 30, 1948, in the small town or Sparkman, Arkansas. Fred's father, Monroe Milton, was a sharecropper — a non-landowning small-scale farmer who paid a percentage of the crops he produced to a landlord as rent. His mother, Dorothy, was a homemaker.

Shortly after Fred's birth the family moved to Malvern, Arkansas, and from there to the city of Hot Springs. By the time Fred was in high school, his family had relocated west to the Tri-Cities area of Washington, where the athletic Fred was a standout at Columbia High School in football, wrestling, and track as a member of the Class of 1966.

Milton made his mark playing football for Wenatchee Junior College. His hard-hitting style attracted the attention of Oregon State University Head Coach Dee Andros, a portly man with an affinity for orange jackets which earned him the well-deserved nickname "The Great Pumpkin." Andros offered Milton a chance to play football in the Pac-8 conference and Milton accepted, moving to Corvallis and entering OSU.

A stellar athlete, Milton anchored the defense for the Beavers as middle linebacker of the famed 1967 squad which upset #1 ranked powerhouse USC and #2 Purdue. The Beavers' stunning victories rocked the world of collegiate football and earning the team's members a place in Oregon sports history as the "Giant Killers."

Despite Milton's critical participation on the 1967 team, however, other events later overshadowed his activities on the field. In 1969 Milton became embroiled in a racially-charged confrontation with his white coach which ultimately put the team and the community in the harsh glare of the national spotlight. This test of wills between Milton and Andros ultimately contributed in no small measure to the functional failure of the Oregon State football program during the 1970s and 1980s and provided an impetus for acute self-examination by white Oregonians of their relationship to black athletes and residents of the state.

It was all about refusing to shave a beard.

For the racial tension back of the 1969 "Milton Affair" to make sense, one must first understand a bit about the historic "place" of African-Americans in the state.

A Brief History of Racism in Oregon.

The state of Oregon had a long and lamentable history regarding the treatment of black Americans. Although remembered for fighting for the Union cause in the American Civil War of 1861-1865, Oregonian institutionalized anti-black racism through a variety of legal mechanisms.

In 1848 the Provisional Government of Oregon passed Oregon's first Exclusion Law, which prohibited blacks or individuals of bi-racial heritage (so-called "mulattos") from even residing in the Oregon Territory. This law remained on the books until 1854; a similar measure was passed by popular vote of the citizens of the territory in 1857 and added to the state's Bill of Rights as part of the Oregon Constitution.

In 1850 the Oregon Donation Land Act became law, establishing land grants for whites and "half-breed Indians," but denying blacks the right to claim land in the Oregon Territory.

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Oregon became a state in February 1859, earning the ignominious distinction of being the first state admitted to the Union with an anti-black exclusion law on its books.

While the Civil War seems to have rendered Oregon's anti-black exclusion law obsolete in practice, it remained on the books and the State Legislature began to use a economic cudgel to preserve racial purity. In 1862 the Oregon Legislature passed a law requiring all blacks, Hawaiians, Chinese, and "mulattos" to pay an annual tax of $5 — a substantial sum in the money of the day. Those unable to pay such a tax were to be subject to conscription into road maintenance crews at the rate of 50 cents per day, until such time that the tax obligation was covered.

The 1862 Legislature also passed legislation prohibiting interracial marriages, making it illegal for whites to marry anyone one-quarter black or more. This law remained on the books for nine decades, being repealed only in 1951.

Blacks were also banned by the state constitution from voting in Oregon. This law was rendered moot by the passage of the passage of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1870. Still, Oregonians rejected changing the state constitution to reflect this new reality on three separate occasions — in 1883, 1895, and 1916.

The Oregon anti-black Exclusion Law was removed from the books only in 1926 and the constitutional prohibition against black voters was finally removed only in 1927. The state's systemic anti-black hostility had effect. On the eve of World War II there were still fewer than 3,000 blacks living in Portland, the state's biggest city.

Some restaurants barred blacks from dining. Black families were ghettoized into certain areas of cities. Unfair insurance surcharges for African-American citizens remained in effect until 1951, at which time they were eliminated along with the state's law against interracial marriage.

White-dominated Oregon remained deeply segregated, with the state's black population subject to discrimination with regards to housing, employment, and public accommodations.

Racism in Oregon Sports.

Oregon's long tradition of anti-black racism was reflected in the state's collegiate sports. While conference foe UCLA was a pioneer in the recruitment of black players to its basketball team, breaking the color barrier in 1925, there was no "magic moment" of racial integration of college sports akin to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in 1947. Integration took place slowly on a school by school basis, with black athletes frequently barred from participation in varsity sports.

Corvallis was particularly retrograde, with the Oregon State College basketball team headed by Amory "Slats" Gill prohibiting black players his entire 36-year tenure as Head Coach, which ended in 1964. It was not until 1966 that the first black player on scholarship was named to the Oregon State University men's basketball team, when the ironically named Charley White made the squad.

While the OSU football team was racially integrated from an earlier date, the cloistered and conservative small town of Corvallis in the 1950s and 1960s was a far from hospitable place for black athletes of the day. Racial fear and racist attitudes ran deep.

The 1960s were a time of the mass questioning of the conservative norms of the previous generation and of the emergence of a renewed movement by American blacks for their social liberation. "Black Power," "Black Pride," and "Black is Beautiful" were slogans of the day. Race riots erupted in various impoverished urban centers, putting many staid older white Americans into a reflexive defensive posture.

The Milton Affair.

The "Milton Affair" started simply enough. Fred Milton, a highly touted linebacker, had missed the 1968 season due to injury. In February 1969, with football season past, rotund Head Coach Dee Andros had spotted his charge Milton sporting a goatee while strolling across campus. The ex-military man Andros was a domineering old school type of coach back in the day and facial hair on members of the OSU football team was strictly prohibited.

Andros was an oversized man with an oversized personality, sometimes proudly sporting orange socks, the proud owner of a custom-painted orange-and-black Oldsmobile. He was quick with the self-deprecating quip about his girth, in the tradition of jolly comedians, but brooked no dissent among his players, dictating policy and expecting obedience.

Andros had very specific rules about grooming for his players. No hair over the ears or on the collar. No sideburns lower than the bottom of the ear. And no facial hair of any kind.

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"It ain't neat. It ain't athletic," Andros declared.

Head Coach Andros demanded that linebacker Fred Milton shave off his beard at once.

Milton refused.

To Andros, Milton's failure to comply with a direct order as a challenge to what he called his "coaching prerogative."

For Fred Milton, having a goatee wasn't a matter of style so much as it was a question of personal dignity and self-respect. He would play the violent sport for the white man at the white school, but he would do so on his own terms, as a proud black American with his dignity intact. It was the off-season. The coach had no right. He would not obey.

Player and coach met for 40 minutes in Coach Andros' office to discuss the matter. Neither would back down.

Social change is rarely the product of great epochal events, but is rather generally the result of many small acts of defiance. A tired woman after work refusing to "follow the rules" and give up her seat on a public bus to a boarding white man in 1955. Memphis garbage men walking out on the job in pursuit a little respect and a living wage in 1968. And even, sometimes, a black football player having the courage of his convictions to tell his white coach "no."

In 1969 there were only 47 black students at Oregon State University in a student body of 14,500. This group included 18 black athletes, 6 of whom were on the football team. All were united that Andros' hardline position on facial hair was a matter of cultural oppression. Milton's small act of defiance in maintaining he had a right to groom himself as he saw fit was a clarion call.

The 47 black students were unanimous in calling for a walkout of class and boycott in solidarity with Milton, an action joined by some sympathetic white students. The OSU Student Senate voted 11-9 in favor of the black students' boycott. Pressure was brought to bear after this decision, however, and many students caved. The matter was shortly revisited and the resolution in support was overturned by a vote of 19-5.

Conservative forces also mobilized, with 173 Oregon State athletes signing a petition in support of their Athletic Department. A rally in support of Andros drew 4,000 participants; one in support of Milton and the boycott drew 1,000. Boycott supporters also held a march on campus, which helped to raise awareness of the issue.

The 88 member OSU Faculty Senate joined the fray, voicing support of Milton by declaring the university could not justify disparaging an "individual student's right to determine what constitutes proper social and cultural values," particularly with respect to style of dress or hair.

Andros was bellicose, declaring that the Faculty Senate had "lost its nerve" and claiming they were "giving the hippies license to walk naked at graduation."

"They don't have the power to fire me and they sure as hell can't say anything to make me resign," Andros raged, noting that he had support of the vast majority of his players and of the OSU Athletic Department. Andros, who had recently signed a five year contract extension as OSU Head Football Coach, knew that his ample backside was completely covered.

Public sentiment was on his side as well in the conservative community. The protest movement soon burned itself out. Importantly, however, the battle over dress codes at Oregon State had garnered national attention through a feature story in Sports Illustrated. A period of soul-searching for the school's athletic program and for the community as a whole had begun.

Victory in Defeat.

Seven of the 18 black athletes at OSU in 1969 left the university, with only 2 black players remaining on the football team for 1970. One of these, running back Bryce Huddleston, showed up for spring practice with a mustache and was promptly thrown off the team for his insubordination. Following a 90 minute meeting with OSU's Athletic Director Jim Barratt, Huddleston agreed to shave and was allowed to return, although initially demoted by Andros to third team status.

Among those leaving the program was Fred Milton. Milton initially planned on transferring to Portland State University but wound up instead finishing his collegiate career playing for Utah State University in Logan — ironically one of the few towns in America even whiter than Corvallis.

Around the country, publicity about the Oregon State events moved the matter of grooming and dress codes was moved to the agenda, and a process of liberalization was begun.

The anger of black athletes at the heavy-handedness and perceived cultural insensitivity of Coach Andros dramatically impacted the team's ability to attract African-American players. OSU was unable to recruit a single new black player for its 1970 recruiting class.

"I'm sure it has hurt our recruiting of black players," Andros acknowledged at the time. "We went after two good ones and never had a chance."

Despite the triumph of his "coaching prerogative," the Milton incident forced Andros and the OSU athletic program to take a long look at itself and to pay closer attention to the feelings of minority athletes.

"I've coached 20 years and was never reproached by blacks before," said Andros. "No one ever charged me with racism. If you're a bigot it will catch up to you and you won't win."

In fact, Andros wasn't a bigot, but rather a hardheaded old school coach who was unwilling to adapt to the times. To many, particularly black athletes who were prospective recruits, the subtle difference was missed and the same price was paid. The Great Pumpkin's blindly conservative attitude and refusal to compromise ultimately did indeed "catch up" with him and his program. There were unintended consequences generated by hardline enforcement of rigid official policy.

Andros's 1970 Beaver team finished with 6 wins and 5 losses. However the school was for a time hampered from effective recruitment of star black athletes by the reputation which preceded it. OSU was placed at a severe competitive disadvantage with more forward-thinking institutions and the losses mounted. It would be nearly three decades before OSU was able to field a winning football team again.

After a 1-10 record in 1975, Andros was kicked upstairs to become the new Athletic Director at OSU. Over the next 11 years the Pumpkin would hire three coaches — Craig Fertig, Joe Avezzano, and Dave Kraigthorpe — each of which were woefully unable to turn around the football program which Andros had inadvertently demolished.

Epilogue.

Somewhat surprisingly, Dee Andros and Fred Milton managed to patch up their differences fairly rapidly, even becoming friends in later years. Andros is credited for having been instrumental in Milton advance with his professional career, working the phones on his behalf to help him land a place in the Canadian Football League.

Andros retired under pressure as OSU's AD in 1985, with OSU athletics running deeply in the red and big doners increasingly disaffected. Andros remained personally popular among longtime supporters of the team, however, and continued to play a role in Beaver athletics after his retirement, up to his death in the fall of 2003.

Oregon State's basketball program, which had long been stifled by Head Coach Slats Gill — who, let it be said actually was a racist — was ultimately vivified in 1970 with the hiring of an Equal Opportunity Grouch, Ralph Miller as the team's chief. Miller, who had enjoyed previous success at Wichita and Iowa, was never shy about recruiting or playing black athletes and he was ultimately able to catch up with UCLA's four decade head start in fielding an ethnically diverse roster.

In the late 1990s, Corvallis native Mike Riley managed to finally revive the school's horrific football program. Riley left OSU to take a job in the NFL in 1999, giving Dennis Erickson the opportunity to roll into town to take credit for the turnaround with a 7-5 record. The successful 1999 Beaver team, not surprisingly, was built around a core of African-American stars, including running back Ken Simonton, wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh, linebacker Nick Barnett, and defensive back Dennis Weathersby.

Corvallis changed, too. Formerly a cloistered ultra-conservative backwater that was pilloried in Bernard Malamud's 1961 novel, A New Life, the town grew substantially in the 1970s, gained an influx of transplants from California associated with the construction of a Hewlett-Packard manufacturing facility. Perhaps a still greater impact was wielded by a new generation of academics coming to town, graduates of universities during the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s.

Today Corvallis and Benton County is, along with Portland and Multnomah County, among the most politically progressive places in Oregon. Corvallis is actually more liberal than Eugene in its voting patterns over the course of the past decade or more — true fact, look it up. While some residual racism remains, as exemplified by a recent arson attack on a Corvallis mosque, it is today recognized to be a fringe ideology espoused by a small handful of sociopaths. The community has advanced ten light years in three decades.

As for the protagonist of today's story, Fred Milton, he seems to have had a good life.

Milton graduated from Utah State University and played briefly in the CFL before being forced to leave pro football due to nagging injuries. He married his college sweetheart and together they had three children. Moving to Portland after his football career ended, Milton worked for IBM and later for Liberty Mutual Insurance before going to work for the City of Portland.

Milton ran unsuccessfully for Multnomah County Commission in 1990 and ended his working career with Multnomah County. He founded the Portland Inner-City Sports Club in 1993.

In 1992 Fred Milton was elected to the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame as part of the 1967 "Giant Killers" team, joining his old nemesis and later friend, Head Coach Dee Andros. While their victory together on the gridiron is well remembered, it is also fitting that the mutual defeat suffered by the pair in their 1969 fight over cultural issues is recorded and recalled.

Fred Milton's refusal to conform ultimately paved the way for a greater triumph off the field. His defiant action of standing up for his rights as a human being in 1969 started a process which ultimately led to the change of a small piece of the world for the better.

Sources:

Paul Buker, "'Giant Killers' Standout Milton Befriended Coach After Clash," The Oregonian, Feb. 9, 2011, pp. D1, D3.

Bill Long, "Blacks in Oregon," drbilllong.com/ Aug. 21, 2005.

John Underwood, "Shave Off That Thing!" Sports Illustrated, Sept. 1, 1969.

"Obituary: Fred Grady Lee Milton," The Oregonian, Feb. 6, 2011.

"Oregon Racial Laws and Events, 1844-1959," Oregon Department of Education. Retrieved Feb. 9, 2011.

"Luncheonette Sign, We Cater to White Trade Only," Oregon History Project. Retrieved Feb. 9, 2011.

Photo Credits: Fred Milton: The Oregonian file photo. Dee Andros: Vic Condiotti, Seattle Times. All images heavily tweaked in Photoshop by Tim Davenport.

2010-11 VIEW INDEX.

=============

ADDENDA (Jan. 2012) — I pass this forwarded email along for what it's worth, without having personally investigated the veracity of the claim. I have no reason to believe it to be incorrect, nor time to investigate it. —Tim Davenport.

* * *

"In the story, Mr. Davenport claims that Slats Gill had a strict policy of no black players on his team, and that Charlie White was the first black player at OSU. Mr. Davenport is mistaken-- Norm Monroe was OSU's first black player, and he played under Slats Gill. Charlie White was not the first player-- he was the first scholarship basketball players. Monroe did not need a scholarship as he had one already from track. He was part of a panel, along with Coach Robinson, Charlie White, Coach Valenti, and others, hosted at OSU last year regarding this very topic. During his panel discussion, he remarked that he did not think that Slats Gill was racist.

"I would appreciate if you could forward this along to Mr. Davenport, and a correction made in his article-- with a misrepresentation of the facts, Slats Gill is inaccurately portrayed in a very damaging fashion.

"I think this was an excellent article, however this (very understandable and very common) mistake misrepresents Coach Gill and unfairly labels him. Even such a correction as "Slats Gill has been perceived as racist," etc, would be helpful in rectifying this error.

Thank you,

Ben Forgard

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of SB Nation or the Building the Dam staff. FanPost opinions are valued expressions of opinion by passionate and knowledgeable Oregon State fans.

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