The San Bernardino Black Athletes Hall of Fame
The San Bernardino Black Athletes Hall of Fame was established in 1973 by two organizations – Kutania People and The Sportsmen Athletic Club, Inc. The Sportsmen, led by Leonard Jacks, organized in 1972 and were themselves former San Bernardino area athletes. The group counseled student athletes and worked to develop city and county wide interest in recreation and athletic programs. Kutania People (Swahili for “people helping people”) also formed in 1972 with Wilbur D. Brown as its President. The organization sought to foster the development of young people by offering internship programs and camping experiences. The group also sponsored a Black Art Exhibit and the Black History Queen Pageant amongst other endeavors.
This joint venture set out to honor outstanding athletes who got their start at San Bernardino H.S.s and secondary schools. Between 1973 and 1986, seventy (70) local athletes from football, basketball, baseball and track and field were inducted into the Hall of Fame. In addition, twenty-eight (28) young men and women athletes received Tom Hester Memorial Awards, created in honor of Booker Thomas Hester, Jr., track and football star at San Bernardino H.S. (class of 1962) and in track at Arizona State University. The fundraising event sponsored scholarships for college-bound students and brought a who’s who of Black entertainers, established athletes and personalities to San Bernardino, including boxing promoter Don King and legendary soul singer Marvin Gaye.
The annual San Bernardino Black Athletes Hall of Fame is a shining example of Black life in the Inland Empire in the 1970s and 80s. As part of our efforts to preserve this history, we are archiving the San Bernardino Black Athletes Hall of Fame, 1973-1986. As items are digitized, we will tell the story of this event through photos, commemorative brochures, newspaper clippings and other archived materials.
Part I: San Bernardino Black Athletes Hall of Fame, 1973 to 1975
The first San Bernardino Black Athletes Hall of Fame was held at the Kola Shanah on the third Saturday in February, 1973. As stated in the accompanying article, inductees and Hester awardees were selected by three members of the Sportsmens Club, three members of Kutania People, and one “member-at-large.”
1973 Hall of Fame inductees were as follows:
- Tom Hester, San Bernardino H.S.
- Horace Howard, Jr., San Bernardino H.S.
- William Ernest McMurray, San Bernardino H.S.
- Homer Roberson, Pacific H.S.
- Andrew “Andy” Brown, San Bernardino H.S.
- Atwood “Sonny” Grandberry, San Bernardino H.S.
- Charles Tribble, Pacific H.S.
The first awards ceremony bestowed the Tom Hester Memorial Award to twelve athletes who were honored retroactively from 1963 to 1972. Robert Howard (San Bernardino High, Valley College) was the first recipient for the 1963 school year.
1963 – Robert Howard, San Bernardino H.S.
1964 – Earnest Powell, San Bernardino H.S.
1964 – Sherman Sweeney, San Bernardino H.S.
1965 – Edgar Denmon, San Bernardino H.S.
1966 – Terry Hall, San Bernardino H.S.
1967 – George Tribble, San Bernardino H.S.
1967 – John Cain, San Bernardino H.S.
1968 – Cliff Culberth, Pacific H.S.
1969 – Larry Jackson, Pacific H.S.
1970 – Tom Cauley, Pacific H.S.
1971 – Remel Diggs, San Bernardino H.S.
1972 – Rodney Hunn, Pacific H.S.
The Second Annual San Bernardino Black Athletes Hall of Fame dinner and dance took place Saturday, February 23, 1974, capping off a series of Black History Month activities. The venue moved from the Kola Shanah to the San Bernardino Convention Center. The Keynote Speaker for that year was George Hughley, former Washington Redskin. Hughley was then Director of Urban Affairs for the City of Los Angeles.
1974 Hall of Fame inductees were:
John Flowers, Jr., San Bernardino H.S.
John L. Howard, San Bernardino H.S.
Shelton Diggs, former three-sport star at San Bernardino H.S., won the Tom Hester Memorial Award for the 1972-1973 school year. This article, dated February 1974 from the Sun-Telegram, notes attendees Lynn Swann, University of Southern California All American and wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Marv Fleming, tight end for the Miami Dolphins.
In three short years, the San Bernardino Black Athletes Hall of Fame had become one of the city’s preeminent events. As with the previous year, the affair was held at the San Bernardino Convention Center. Over 500 people were in attendance. Boxer Ken Norton returned to the 1975 event, along with Rams Quarterback James Harris, USC’s Ron Bush and Shelton Diggs – the Tom Hester Memorial Award winner for 1974. Bush and Diggs presented the Top Black Collegiate Athlete award to Olympic long jumper Randy Williams.
1975 Hall of Fame inductees were:
Bezearlu “Bunny” Brown, San Bernardino H.S.
Willis “Sonny” McDowell, Pacific H.S.
Eddie Williams, San Bernardino H.S.
Willie Beamon (San Bernardino H.S.) won the Tom Hester Memorial Award for the 1973-1974 school year, edging out Greg Bunch (Pacific H.S.), Leon Jordan (San Gorgonio H.S.), and Orlando Mayes (Cajon H.S.). Ken Norton, Heavyweight WBC champion, presented the award to Beamon.
The Hall of Fame garnered support from local businesses and media outlets. At top: photo with caption from the American News, dated September 8, 1975, features Wilbur Brown, President of Kutania People, program chairperson Wilmer (Amina Carter) Diggs, and Dorty Gray of the Sportsmen Athletic Club, Inc. presenting a commendation to Russ Barry, then General Manager of KNXT television station.
Bottom photo: Wilmer (Amina Carter) Diggs and Wilbur Brown pictured with Verne Potter, President of Santa Fe Federal Savings and Loan Association, one of several corporate sponsors that supported the Hall of Fame throughout its run. Citation: Precinct Reporter, December 31, 1975.