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Oscar Reed

Oscar Reed

Former professional American football player who played for the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons. He currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota mentoring youth in public schools.

Born: MS, United States
Heritage: African American

Study hard and have a lot of fun. You might think those two things don’t go together, but they can!!

Oscar Reed

Former professional American football player who played for the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons. He currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota mentoring youth in public schools.

My name is Oscar Reed. I was born a long time ago, 1944. And um…I was born in the state of Mississippi. Anybody ever been there before? You been to Mississippi? Wow. I’m impressed, that’s a long ways away.

That’s where I was born, in the state of Mississippi. Lived there until I was nine years old. Back when I was born in Mississippi, they had what they call sharecropping. You guys ever heard that term before? You have? Sharecropping. Okay, you’ve heard it before? (Students discussing)

I’m going to explain to you what it’s about, sharecropping. In my family, my family and extended family like my grandparents, my uncles and aunts, they were all given plots of land in Mississippi. The plots of land was part of a plantation that was owned by one family. I have to say that it was a white family.

Right after slavery, they decided—there were some slaves that couldn’t move away after they were free so what they did was demand they own their land—that they gave them, or rather, leased plots of land to these black families. What they did was they would raise cotton, beans, corn, huge crops and they would work the land and harvest the crops. Then they would sell them.

But the man who owned the land would take a large percentage of the money that the crops brought in. And so often, the families could never get out of debt because the man who owned the land would take most of the money. And a way to keep them there, they would take most of the money so the families couldn’t move away.
So, my mother, bless her heart, she was one of 13 siblings and she was like right in the middle of all her sisters and brothers. Two of her older sisters had moved away a long time before, they moved to Memphis, Tennessee and they started a business.

Well, a few years later, they decided, let’s go and take, get—my mother’s name is Florence—we gonna go and get Florence and have her come here and work with us. So, my mother went to Memphis and she stayed for about a month. During that time, she went through training for the work that she was going to be doing.
In the meantime, my dad and my sister and I were still on the plantation. After she had completed school, you know, training, she came back to get us. She said, she had found a place in Memphis and she was going to be working with her sisters and that she wanted to bring her family to Memphis.

Well, my dad, knowing that…knowing that we were in debt from sharecropping, he said, we can’t go. We owe the man too much money. We cannot get out of here. And my mother says, no, we’re going, we’re leaving. She said she didn’t care how much money we owed that man, that she was gonna take her family out of…away from the plantation.

So, in the middle of the night, we packed up and my dad had an old car and we drove away. And we landed in Memphis, Tennessee. Anybody ever been in Memphis, Tennessee or Tennessee at all? Hmm? Nobody from Memphis, Tennessee.

You ever heard of Elvis Presley? [Chuckles] Ho, ho! You have! Oh, my goodness. Who can tell me something of Elvis Presley? How ‘bout you? Crazy hair? Yeah. He started rock? Yes, he’s one of the first. That’s what they said. Yeah.

When I moved to, you know, Elvis is from…that’s where he lived. He’s from Memphis, Tennessee. And it was not far from where I lived. We used to go by his house when we were kids so we always had that to brag about, we knew Elvis. We used to see him out in the yard, you know.

But that’s where I grew up from nine years old until I went off to college, was in Memphis. And um, I was very fortunate or lucky or both because when I was growing up, kids who looked like me didn’t get an opportunity to go to college. Didn’t get very many opportunities to go to college.

You know, if they finished high school, they’d go right into a job. And I was all prepared to do that, but at the same time, I was very interested in sports.

So, I started playing sports in junior high school. I started playing basketball, baseball, football, ah, tennis, you name it. And I realized that by participating in all these sports, it kept me away from trouble in the streets. ‘Cause I wouldn’t get home until late in the evening.
And ah…I had a lot of friends in high school. I started focusing mainly on football because, I guess, that was…that was um…the most successful sport I played was football.

During my high school years we won State Champion, you know, and I was honorable mention All-America. I…along about my, my sophomore and junior year, I started getting all these letters from these universities and colleges all over the country saying, hey, you know, we think you’re an outstanding football player, we’d like to offer you a scholarship.

So, I said, wow. You mean I might get a chance to go to college? Because had it not been for football, I wouldn’t have gotten…I wouldn’t have gotten a college education because my parents couldn’t afford to send me to college, alright?

They didn’t have the type of programs back then that they have today that could help students get into college. They didn’t have those back then. Like, today, there’re all kinds of programs, financial assistance programs that could help you. If you wanna go, you can go to college, right?

How many of you are dead-set on going to college? Okay, very good. That’s definitely what you want to do.

So, ah, I was offered all these scholarships, but I could only choose one. And at first, that was a lot of fun, you know, to look at these letters I’d gotten. There had to have been maybe a 150 different letters I’d gotten for colleges and universities all over the country.
And I was going around showing them to people. They were so proud of me, my family and my friends, my neighbors! They were really excited because they had never had anybody in this community to do this. So, I was like a first.

But I started working really hard, preparing myself to go to college. And, it came time to choose the university that I want to go to and then it became really hard. Um, I wanted to…the way I narrowed it down…

Number 1, I wanted to leave the South. Why do you think I wanted to leave the South? Yes, it was symptoms of slavery. That’s a good answer. (Teacher comment) Oh, yeah. At some point, you know, if you study your history, you’ll learn about Jim Crow laws. You probably don’t know anything…

Anyway, when I was growing up, I couldn’t go to an integrated school. I mean, I couldn’t go to a White school. I could only go to a Black school. And they weren’t as good as white schools were.
I couldn’t live in a white neighborhood. I couldn’t um…wow…just…yeah, restaurants. I couldn’t eat in a white restaurant, go to a white bathroom. As a matter of fact, they would have four bathrooms in a business. Say if I went downtown and had to go to the bathroom, that area, or close by, they would have like four bathrooms: one for white women, one for white men, and one for black women and one for black men.

So, I grew up in that type of environment and it was not fun. If I went into a store downtown to buy some clothes or buy a pair of pants, you know how your parents take you shopping, you try your pants first before you buy ‘em, right? I couldn’t do that.

My mom would hold the pants up next to me and that’s how she would choose the size that I needed. Everything else, she would guess at, you know.

But now, you can go into a store and you can put on a pair of pants to see if they fit. Yeah, I couldn’t do that. There were a lot of things that I couldn’t do. Things that were available only because of the color of my skin.

So, first thing I wanted to do when I had the opportunity and got all these scholarships, I wanted to get as far away from the South as I possibly could. So that eliminated all the schools in the South period. And I had a lot of scholarship offers from universities in the South. So, that eliminated all of them.

And, I…in order to get away from that type of environment, I had to go a long ways off, a long ways away. So, I chose a university…a university in Colorado. Colorado State University is where I went to college for five years. I wanted to be a teacher, but in the meantime, I played football because that’s how…that’s why I was there at the university.

And I made ah, made like second team All-America at the university. And then I started focusing on getting my degree because I wanted to be a teacher. Because one of the people who had impact, who influenced me was one of my teachers and he was also a football coach. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a teacher and a football coach.

So, by my senior year in college, I get a call from the Minnesota Vikings. You guys heard of the Minnesota Vikings? Heh…how many Minnesota Viking fans in here. Let’s see your hands. Alright. How many of you knew that I used to play for the Minnesota Vikings? (Teacher had just told them prior to interview) She did?

I was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings right out of college. I was, wow, this is really cool. My plan was to go back to Memphis, believe it or not, and become a teacher and a coach. I felt that I could help a lot of kids the way that my coach helped me. So, that was my plan.
I figured being educated and going back to the South…by that time the South was changing, you know? They were becoming integrated. You guys know what that means? What does that mean? (Students respond) Yeah, but do you know what the word ‘integration’ means? (More response) Yeah, yeah. The schools were becoming open for anybody in all colors, all nationalities, all races.

And I thought to myself, wow, the South is changing. Maybe I could live there. So that was my plan until the Vikings called me, right? I said, oops! Sorry Memphis, I gotta to Minnesota. So, I’ve been here ever since I got out of college.

I played for the Vikings for eight years and ah, I’ve been here ever since. I have um, three grown up daughters and I have six grandkids. So, I love it here. It’s a little cold in the winter, but…nonetheless, I love it here.

And now, what I do now is I work with schools. Right now I’m working about 60% of my time in St. Louis Park School district. The rest I do consulting with other school districts. Travel around the country working with school districts.

And I do what is called restorative circles. I teach, train people how to do circles in schools. Sounds pretty simple, but it’s pretty cool. Okay!


Let Justice Roll Down Like Water

Honoring Oscar Reed

Let Justice Roll Down Like Water
(Honoring Oscar Reed)

Let justice roll down like water
And righteousness like a mighty stream
With great determination
To be all that you can be

My name is Oscar Reed
I was born a long time ago
In the state of Mississippi
Lived there till I was nine years old
With my aunts and uncles
On a plot of land
On a big plantation
Owned by the white man
Who took all the money
From the crops we did grow

We were so far in debt
From the money that we owed
So my mother, bless her heart
Told papa we must go
In the middle of the night
With all our stuff
In dad’s old car
We had enough
So we headed off to Memphis, Tennessee

But when we got to Memphis
Some things were still the same
If you were black like me
People still called you bad names
Couldn’t try on pants in the store
Could not find work,
‘less you swept the floor
Or became a street cleaner
like my father did
Yet through it all
I was pushed to succeed
By my momma and papa
and teachers at Booker T.

Started playing football
got pretty good
Got a scholarship
I knew I would
Go to college far away
from ‘ole Jim Crow

So I headed west to the Rockies
For my degree
Became an All-American
In the land of the free
Then got drafted as a running back
For the Minnesota Vikings, imagine that
Played in three Super Bowls
Which means a lot to me

`But that don’t compare
To those who gave their lives
So we might be free
In those days of Civil Rights
Brother Martin spoke
for my dad on strike
We must stand together
both day and night
And my father passed down
these words he gave to me

Words & music by Larry Long with Patty Kremer’s 4th Grade Class of Hiawatha Elementary School, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

© Larry Long Publishing 2012, BMI