First black teacher in integrated Rock Hill schools remembered at funeral

07/25/2014 8:18 PM

07/25/2014 9:05 PM

One might think that Mike Barber, who played five seasons of NFL football after starring at Clemson, would talk about his own accomplishments.

But not on Friday.

As founder and president of the Pro Athletes Council, Barber gives pep talks before hundreds – sometimes thousands – of business people. But he had trouble Friday as he tried to talk about his grandfather, L.C. Barber, who died this week at 92.

Barber knows that without the guidance of his grandfather, he would have no economics degree from Clemson, no stardom in football, no bright lights.

“I was a Super Prep All American, played with the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts, but I did nothing compared to my grandfather,” Barber told a packed Foundation AME Zion Church. “This is a man who was the first black teacher in Rock Hill schools. Imagine what his courage meant for those who came after him.

“He changed the world. My achievements cannot compare with his.”

L.C. Barber was a World War II veteran, volunteering to serve in the segregated Army and seeing combat in an anti-tank division – despite the fact that black soldiers were not allowed to carry guns. Retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Weeks saluted Barber’s casket Friday instead of receiving a salute as he had for so long.

After four years in the military, Barber was the first in his family to attend college. He first taught in segregated schools, then integrated schools, until his retirement in 1984.

But Barber’s love for baseball, and what it taught young men about teamwork and self-worth, dominated his funeral. Barber coached the Edgemoor Hornets and the Harmony Aces – rural black teams – into his late 80s. Former players and coaches from his teams, and opposing teams such as the Rock Hill O’s, carried Barber’s casket Friday to the tiny church cemetery.

“L.C. Barber coached me and my brothers – and my sons and my nephews – and everyone that we knew,” said Bubba Degraffenreid, a pallbearer. “He loved his ball teams. He cared about them. It is an honor to carry him to his final rest.”

Several speakers used baseball themes to convey what Barber meant to young people in four decades of teaching and six decades of coaching. Barber used baseball as a vehicle to instill in young men the dedication it would take to succeed in life.

Jerry Hinson, a longtime area football and basketball coach, proudly spoke of how Barber helped Hinson, who is white, reach and teach black players. Barber took Hinson to watch the black players at Edgemoor’s tiny “Between the Tracks” baseball field in rural northeastern Chester County near the York County line. Some of the best baseball anywhere was played in those black leagues.

“For L.C. Barber, it was not about black or white, it was about young people having success,” Hinson said to a roar of applause. “I had one team that was undefeated, unscored upon in football, and it was because of L.C. Barber.”

Angela Davis-Baxter, who knew Barber her whole life, spoke of how Barber’s care for young people has spread around America in the successes of his students and players.

“L.C. Barber, he touched all the bases,” she said, “and now he’s just touched home plate.”

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