If you’ve ever played a game underneath the bright lights of Thornton-Foster Stadium in Bullock County, Ala., you have my grandfather to thank.
Those lights and the stadium are the vestiges of a separate-but-equal compromise made nearly 50 years ago. The stadium still exists, continuing to fulfill the steadfast commitment my grandfather made to youth sports.
My grandfather, Y.C. Nance (1916-1966) was president of the Carver High Quarterback Club, a booster club that supported high school football in Union Springs. In 1964, the group was organizing an exhibition game that would feature the Indianapolis Clowns, a Negro American League baseball team. (Side note: this team’s most notable player was home run leader Hank Aaron, who spent the early part of his baseball career with the Clowns). Scheduled to be played at night, the game would require use of a lighted stadium.
My grandfather sought permission from the Bullock County Board of Education to use Pugh Stadium, the city’s only lighted stadium. Request denied. Use of Pugh Stadium was only for the white residents of Union Springs.
As a concession, the school board agreed to build a lighted stadium at Carver High School, the high school for Bullock County’s black students. (The school was later renamed Bullock County High School).
Unfortunately, the game was never played. The Clowns never made their Union Springs debut and no one ever revisited the plan. Nevertheless, the city gained a showcase for some of their finest athletes.