Charles H. Martin
Summary of Interview
Kelly Myrick was a nationally-ranked hurdler on the 1967 and 1968 UTEP track and field teams. In the spring of 1968 he became the spokesman for a group of black athletes who were kicked off the UTEP squad after boycotting a track meet at Brigham Young University. The ensuing controversy over their action and the athletic department’s response brought negative publicity to the university and was part of the so-called “revolt of the black athlete” in the late 1960s.
Myrick begins by describing how UTEP’s dynamic young track coach, Wayne Vandenburg, assembled a talented squad of athletes from around the world in order to compete for the indoor and outdoor NCAA track championships. He recalls how in February, 1968, he and five others black UTEP runners, including future Olympic champion Bob Beamon, declined to honor a controversial boycott of the prestigious indoor track meet sponsored by New York Athletic Club, which excluded African Americans from membership. The UTEP athletes competed in the meet, he explains, because they had long-standing plans to visit their friends and families back in the New York City area, not because they opposed such protests. Stung by criticism from black activists over their participation, Myrick and several other team members discussed how to take a public stand against racial discrimination in American society. He relates that following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the group decided to boycott the upcoming track meet at BYU to protest the racially restrictive policies [later abandoned] of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which operated BYU. Because of the boycott, nine and eventually eleven athletes had their scholarships revoked. Myrick recalls how some faculty and staff, including Professor Pauline Kiska and Dean Jimmy Walker, were sympathetic to their situation and helped arrange housing and financial assistance. He also credits many members of El Paso’s African American community for their support. Myrick describes racial discrimination in El Paso at the time and the insensitive racial attitudes of senior administrators in the athletic department. During the summer Myrick chose not to attend the U.S. Olympic trials, explaining that he supported the Olympic boycott campaign led by Harry Edwards.
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Interview with Kelly Myrick by Charles H. Martin, 2018, "Interview no. 1682," Institute of Oral History, University of Texas at El Paso.