Raymond Bellamy: A Trailblazer for Equality on the Gridiron

Raymond Bellamy is simply a Florida A&M academic adviser to many people. But to those whose drive and soul has ever been tested by discrimination, he is much more – he is a pioneer.

As the first African-American to sign a football scholarship with the University of Miami, as well as the first black athlete to touch base in the Southeast during the late ’60s, Bellamy is no stranger to bigotry.

During his college career, Bellamy tolerated daily death threats in his mailbox and those that manifested in his presence. He dealt with racial slurs smeared on his dorm door by his teammates and persecution by narrow-minded authorities, all because of his chocolate complexion. And those are only a few experiences he doesn’t mind sharing.

But that never discouraged the UM Football Hall-Of-Fame 2012 inductee, as he stood by the principles taught by his parents through it all.

“I worked right through it. I stayed with what my momma and daddy taught me: tend to your business, go to class, and do whatever you were supposed to do,” Bellamy said.

The 62-year-old recognizes the role his humble beginnings played in his struggle to overcome Jim Crow’s obstacles.

Born into a family of migrant workers in Manatee County, Fla., Bellamy unhappily worked in a produce field from sun-up to sun-down. Endurng his chores ultimately sparked the epiphany that would alter the rest of Bellamy’s life.

“Anything was better than picking tomatoes,” Bellamy remembers. “One day, I was outside in the field and I took a tomato basket and turned it upside down. Then I stepped on top of it, and I yelled across the field to all the people that was out there picking tomatoes. And my yell was, ‘I will not pick tomatoes all my life.’ I yelled it to my left, and I yelled it to my right.

“That was the very beginning of what I embarked to do with the rest of my life.”

That afternoon was the last time Bellamy stepped foot on that field.

With a new outlook, he set his plan into motion. Initially, football was nowhere in sight. Bellamy aspired to play percussion in Lincoln Memorial High School’s band but reevaluated his decision following a lack of support.

His parents had enough insight to understand the importance of an education despite being illiterate. Bellamy was expected to excel in school and didn’t have to work in the field so long as he was active in extracurricular activities.

In eighth grade, he took part in anything he could and was elected student-body and honor society president with the help of his teachers, who were all FAMU graduates.

He then tried out for his school’s football team because of his respect for Eddie Shannon, Lincoln Memorial’s head coach. Bellamy made the team, despite skeptics, but was quickly disappointed when the team took its first road trip without him.

That experience sparked the unwavering resolve that has smoldered within Bellamy his entire life.

“I told them they would never leave me home alone again. And I said, when they got back, I was going to kill somebody,” Bellamy joked.

Bellamy did exactly that, steamrolling every player that challenged him during punt-return drills the next practice, including running back Eugene Hart, who he describes as the best athlete he’s ever seen. This feat landed Bellamy a starting role as a defensive end, a position he quickly excelled at but was also unsatisfied with.

“I made a name for myself defensively, but I always wanted to play offense,” Bellamy said.

That dream became a reality junior year when he left his coaches awestruck after catching every ball thrown to him during a blustery practice. He was a wide receiver that day forward, laying the foundation for his college career.

For a while, passes were never thrown his way. But that changed during a night Bellamy describes as one that “made all the difference” in his life as a receiver.

That night, Bellamy received his first pass emphatically with a one-handed grab in the end zone to seal his team’s victory.

“Everything went up-hill after that,” Bellamy said.

Thereafter, an array of college football scholarships were there for Bellamy’s taking – including one from then-UM President Henry King Stanford.

After testing the waters at other schools across the country, Bellamy decided to take his talents to Miami because of its proximity to his family.

Before he knew it, he was officially the first African-American Hurricane.

But in no time, Bellamy experienced his first dose of intolerance.

During one of his first nights in Coral Gables in 1967, he was stopped by a police officer while walking on campus.

Suspicious of the freshman, the officer inquired why he was there. The officer then demanded Bellamy show student I.D., something he had yet to receive.

“He was giving me a hard time, so I had to figure out a way to turn this thing into something positive,” Bellamy said.

“So I said, ‘excuse me, do you know where the field house is?’ He said he did, so I asked him if he would give me a ride because I was lost. He gave me a ride, in the squad car, to the field house. And I’m sure he figured out the rest after that.”

This was only the beginning, as the 6-foot-5, 185-pound receiver recalls being arrested while a co-ed gave him a tour of the city in her Mustang convertible.

“To this day, I’m still trying to figure out what they arrested me for,” Bellamy said.

The situation was not entirely negative, as it proved Bellamy had at least one friend in south Florida. Stanford, who would become Bellamy’s enduring pal, arrived at the jail by limousine to rescue him. Upon learning the arrest wasn’t justified, Stanford became furious.

“This s— has got to stop,” Bellamy recalled Stanford screaming to the officers. “That was the first time I’ve ever heard him curse.”

Stanford was one of Bellamy’s few highlights early on. He became accustomed to fighting teammates, handling physical abuse on the field, evading murder attempts and using personal security.

“But it’s funny, I was never afraid,” Bellamy said. “Don’t ask me why, because I don’t know. I guess it was the Lord that just took that away.”

As the region’s lone black athlete, Bellamy’s road to success was anything but simple. Nonetheless, he shined just the same, mounting into a premier receiver.

But it would topple before his senior year. One night, Bellamy fell asleep behind the wheel and was involved in a car accident, breaking both his right knee and his left arm. That would have spelled the end to a promising football career for some, but Bellamy was an exception.

“Anyone else, they would have quit football,” said Henry Radford, former UM running back and Bellamy’s long-time friend. “They would have quit life. Ray rehabilitated himself, and came back still a good player. His will was so strong that he would not give up.”

“Ray easily overcame any obstacle in his path,” said former college roommate Jim Rydell.

As time progressed, the university grew and barred minds opened. Endorsed by his team and the black community, he would become student-body president and earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education.

During a period of complacency, Bellamy became a catalyst for change in college athletics across the region. But he says he never glorifies himself because his accomplishments are beyond that.

“The best thing about Ray is his character,” Radford said. “The best thing about Ray is the people that he helped.

By him being the first Afro-American football player at UM, he had to take everything. To be the only one…I can’t even imagine.”

Bellamy said he doesn’t regret a thing.

“It’s never been about Ray Bellamy; it’s always been about the Lord and others,” Bellamy said. “I stand up for the right thing when nobody’s watching. I did it, and I’m glad I did it.”