WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A legend in the civil rights movement is being recognized in Wilmington.
In a ceremony held on Saturday, the City of Wilmington proclaimed March 7 will now be known as Mel Hamilton Day.
“Thank you Mel, Thank you Mel,” the crowd chanted.
“It’s a great honor for me to be back on the home soil, so to speak,” Mel Hamilton said. “It’s just unbelievable.”
Born in Charleston, raised in Wilmington. Mel Hamilton was athletically gifted and went on to play football at the University of Wyoming.
In 1968 Hamilton faced Brigham Young University, a school owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, for the first time on the football field.
He and his other black teammates faced racial slurs.
Off the field, they discovered the LDS Church did not allow black men to become priests.
“I’ll be honest with you. I was afraid because I didn’t know what to do,” Hamilton said. “So I had to go by myself, which I often do, and talk to myself about what does this mean to me and and if I get involved is it going to be good for anything.”
Hamilton would not stand for the discrimination.
The day before his team’s next game against BYU, Hamilton stood with 13 of his teammates in black arm bands in their coach’s office.
Without the chance to explain the protest, the coach immediately kicked them off the team.
They would later become known as The Black 14 and still be remembered decades later.
“I see a lot of young people in here today,” event organizer Derrick Anderson said. “They are here and they can achieve because of people like Mel Hamilton and his 13 brothers that decided enough is enough.”
Anderson says he thanks people like Mel Hamilton for paving the way for change.
As for Hamilton, he says he was just doing what he was called to do.
“It was my turn to become a solider in the revolution and that’s what I did,” Hamilton said.