KOKOMO, Ind. – It’s an apology letter that was nearly 60 years in the making. A Kokomo man who grew up in the 1960s in Newport, Kentucky received a shocking letter this week. It was a letter from an old basketball teammate who simply wanted to apologize for the racism his fellow teammates experienced.
It’s a blemish in our country’s history that people like Eugene Britton Carter grew to accept as normal — racism and segregation. Now at 72-years-old, a letter from an old friend reminded Eugene of a time in Newport, Kentucky when he and three other black basketball players couldn’t attend a tournament in Georgia simply because they were black.
“I was kind of shocked when I read it because I hadn’t seen or heard from tom since 1961 and then wrote me a letter apologizing to me for something I almost forgot about,” Carter said.
It’s been 56 years and teammate Tom Owens hasn’t forgotten the day the team was forced to leave the black players behind.
“This is something I have thought about all my life. And well actually it took a couple years after I got out of high school and started maturing a little bit and became an adult,” Owens said.
Owens talked about that trip to Georgia with other teammates at a class reunion last year. They agreed they wanted to reach out and offer an apology. A friend was able to find Eugene.
“I have been thinking about the right thing to say and all and finally about a month ago I finally got the letter written and sent it off to him and was so pleasantly surprised when he immediately called me back to say how much he appreciated it,” Owens said.
“But it bothers me a little bit he’s been carrying that weight on his shoulder for 56 years now how he really felt about it. I never knew because when they came back from Georgia as a team we went on as nothing ever happened,” Carter said.
Now nearly six decades later, a friendship renewed, an apology accepted and lessons they can pass down to future generations.
“It’s never too late to say I’m sorry and to apologize and also it’s never too late to do the right thing,” Owens said.
“I wish I could see him. I don’t know if I would recognize him now or not. Time has a way of making you old, so I would like to see him,” Carter said.
Both men are now in the Newport High School Hall of Fame. Eugene says he hopes to travel to South Carolina to meet Tom and his family. The two have talked on the phone and plan to keep in touch.