JACKSON – The adult agitators knew where the black guy’s motel room was located.
Their goal: To make his night miserable.
Frank Dowsing, one of Tupelo High School’s sprinters and the object of the group’s racial ridicule, remained patient that cool spring evening in 1968.
The following day, at the North Big Eight Conference track and field meet in Greenwood, Dowsing raced to victory in the 100-yard and 220-yard dashes, and anchored wins in two relays. It was his way of saying, “Take that … and that!”
Tupelo attorney “Bill Beasley was a teammate of Frank’s in track,” said Jack Reed, Jr., Tupelo’s mayor and Dowsing’s high school football teammate. “He told me the group was throwing things at Frank’s motel door and shouting, ‘You better not show up at the track!’
“Frank goes out the next day and wins everything he’s in. That was Frank.”
For his effort in breaking down racial barriers at Tupelo High School and in the SEC with his athletic prowess, academic achievement and exemplary citizenship in the face of adversity, Dowsing, who died after a lengthy illness in 1994, was one of six persons named Wednesday for induction into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
The induction ceremonies for the Class of 2010 will be held July 30 in Jackson.
“Frank Dowsing was a great athlete, one of the greatest in Mississippi sports history,” said Reed, who spoke on behalf of the Dowsing family at the MSHOF news conference. “He was an even greater person. He contributed more than any single human being, black or white, to the peaceful, successful integration of the Tupelo public schools.”
Joining Dowsing, the former THS and Mississippi State football, basketball and track standout, in the 2010 class are:
- Henry Armstrong, Columbus, pro boxer (posthumous).
- Allen Brown, Natchez, former Ole Miss and Green Bay football standout.
- Bob Coleman, Jackson , co-founder of the Mississippi Track Club (posthumous).
- Ken Toler, Sr., Greenville, state, regional and national tennis champion.
- Lake Speed, Jackson, the state’s most prominent NASCAR driver.
“I’m so excited for his induction,” said Dowsing’s niece, Wilmetta Toliver-Diallo, from her home in St. Louis. “I hope my children realize the magnitude of his legacy as an athlete, a scholar and a human being.”
Dowsing’s mother, Jessie, lives just outside of Tupelo, and his sister, Virginia Dowsing Toliver, lives in St. Louis. His father, the late Frank Sr., was a teacher in the Tupelo school system.
Frank Dowsing was one of the first black students to attend THS under the “Freedom of Choice” desegregation plan.
He was named all-conference and all-state in football, helped lead the Golden Wave basketball team to a Grand Slam championship and set a state record of 9.5 seconds in the 100-yard dash at the Big Eight track and field meet.
He accomplished all that and more carrying the burden of being the first African American to participate in previous all-white domains.
“We were playing one of the teams in the Delta and one of my players came out of the game and said, ‘You won’t believe what they’re saying and doing to Frank out there,’” said Tom Cheney, Dowsing’s football coach at Tupelo, in an earlier interview with the Daily Journal. “Frank played on and never said a word.”
‘A great athlete’
Dowsing played football and ran track for Mississippi State, but his former football teammate, Emile Petro, said there wasn’t much Frank couldn’t do.
“He was the star of his intramural basketball team that went undefeated,” said Petro, a Tupelo businessman. “Frank played cornerback and returned punts, but he could have played offense. They used him as a tailback when he was a freshman. I always thought they should have played him there. The guy was a great athlete.”
Dowsing was an All-SEC and All-American selection on the field and in the classroom.
His career punt return average of 15.2 yards remains MSU’s best. His 88-yard punt return for a TD against Alabama in 1971 is the second longest in program history.
He was named to the league’s all-academic team three consecutive seasons. His senior year, he was named a National Football Foundation and a College Hall of Fame Scholar Athlete.
“Frank Dowsing was the Jackie Robinson of Mississippi,” Reed said. “… The recognition that accompanies this achievement will ensure that men and women and young people who love Mississippi sports will forever hear the Frank Dowsing story.”
Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal