Dr. Marshall Banks

Dr. Marshall Banks, a graduate of Booker T. Washington School in Ashland, was the first black athlete to play at Morehead State University, as well as that institution's first black professor. Fifty years later, he's on a quest to find other athletes who were the 'firsts' at their universities.

Dr. Marshall Banks was a high school basketball player of local note in the 1950s and the first African American scholarship athlete in the Ohio Valley Conference at Morehead State in 1958, but his impact went beyond that.

Banks was hired to the faculty of his alma mater in 1965, becoming the first black faculty member there — years before much of the southern and midwestern United States had fully wrapped its mind around the idea of African Americans in meaningful leadership roles.

“To trust me as an athlete was something,” Banks said in a KET documentary on Morehead State, “but to trust me to be able to go into the classroom, to be able to shape minds of all the kids there, there was another bold step that (university president Adron Doran) was able to take.”

Banks, 80, died Oct. 6 at his home in Washington, D.C. He was a 1958 graduate of Booker T. Washington, Ashland’s black high school of the day and where he gained area renown on the basketball floor.

Banks was the leading scorer among players who attended schools in Boyd County as a senior. He led a Hornets team that knocked off blue-blooded Ashland in the district tournament quarterfinals, although he was ejected from that game in the first quarter due to “deliberate tripping.”

Mark Maynard, a local sports historian and longtime sports and news journalist for The Daily Independent, said that was perceived then as a trumped-up charge to get Booker T. Washington’s best player out of the game.

“I think that was interpreted as a sly way to get him out of the game,” Maynard said. “They weren’t gonna let (Booker T. Washington) win that game easily for sure. They were gonna make it tough on them. If he’s out of the game, there’s a much less likely chance that they were gonna beat Ashland, although they still did.”

Maynard said in interviews some 50 years later, Banks “just kinda laughed about it; he didn’t hold any grudges.” But as might be expected for a pioneering athlete, that wasn’t the last of the shenanigans Banks faced.

Two years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional in Brown v. Board, Doran met with Morehead State’s board and told them he planned to integrate Morehead State, Banks said, and he told the student body in the school year’s opening convocation in 1957 that if they had any objection to black students, they could find another institution to their liking farther south, according to KET’s “Far Above the Rolling Campus: A History of Morehead State University.”

It was under those circumstances Banks arrived on campus in 1958 as the first black scholarship athlete in OVC history. But he realized quickly that it wouldn’t be easy: Morehead State took two men’s basketball team photos that year, one with Banks and one without.

Banks ultimately decided to leave the Eagles’ basketball program and compete in track and field, in which sport he set the commonwealth’s record in the 100-yard dash and became All-OVC.

Banks returned to coach track at Morehead State in 1966, in which role he became the first black head coach in the OVC.

Banks went on to earn his master’s and doctorate degrees at Illinois and went on to teach at the State University of New York, Colorado and Howard University in health and physical education. He retired from Howard in 2012 and remained in Washington.

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