A Tribute to Robert W. Curtis: When Performance Trumps Color

I grew up in the segregated South, where “separate but not equal” was the accepted norm.  And even when the separate but equal mandate was ruled illegal and the schools integrated fragments of our former way of life remained.

Students were required to nominate and vote for one “black girl” and one “white girl” homecoming queens, and the attendances to their courts were selected based on race.  While the intention for this form of homecoming equality may have been noble ensuring that lovely young ladies of each race would represent the school as its queen, thus easing potential racial tensions.  The practical effect for me as a coming of age black child was our back girls were not good enough be elected homecoming queen if we had a single queen.  So we needed a bit of “separate but equal” magic to tip the scales.

Ironically, this formula was not in place for any of the other visible parts of my high school life, we had one basketball point guard, we had one football quarterback, we had one captain of the debate team, and we had one high school principal.  And so it was not surprising when our principal Ted Guthrie died suddenly of a heart attack that the vice-principal Robert Curtis was promoted to principal.   What was surprising is the fact that Robert Curtis was black and his race made no difference in his promotion.   While he was elevated to the top job in our school because of an untimely death he earned the job because his performance trumped color.

Robert CurtisMr. Curtis had proven himself as a successful coach, first at the all black Maggie Califf High School and then at the integrated Jones County high school. Notably lifting our high school basketball team to the state title game while earning the respect of the players he coached, their parents his fellow educators and the entire county.  His imposing size could be scary but for those who played for him from high school sensation, college All-American and NBA start Al Wood to a lowly bench sitter like me, Coach Curtis was a man of wit and wisdom while teaching the game of basketball and important life lessons.

Mr. Curtis earned his promotion from coach to vice-principal because he was an involved, caring man dealing with the life problems, hormones and misbehaving’s of teenagers in grades 9-12.

Mr. Curtis earned his promotion as principal leading the school through the difficult trauma and grief of losing its principal while ushering in a new era of academic and athletic achievement.

Mr. Curtis earned success in business serving customers and influencing lives as a State Farm insurance agent for 33 years.

On March 18 Mr. Curtis lost his battle with lung cancer leaving this earth with his wife Sarah by his side.  His legacy as a successful coach, principal and business man surpassed only by his dedication as a husband, father, grandfather and great-greatfather.

However, for me Mr. Curtis will always be a man of enormous size but even more enormous capabilities.  And in my high school world of voting for one black and one white homecoming queen he was a living demonstration of when performance trumps color.

Marben Bland writes and speaks about the passions of his life. Send comments about this post to marben@marbenbland.com




2 thoughts on “A Tribute to Robert W. Curtis: When Performance Trumps Color

  1. sheila braswell

    What an excellent article about such a wonderful principle. Mr.Curtis will always be in my mind and heart.

  2. sheila braswell

    What an excellent article about such a wonderful principle. Mr.Curtis will always be in my mind and heart.


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