My name is Dr. Edward R. Smith. I wanted to bring to your attention some long lost Little Red Devils football history. I was the first African American who integrated the Little Red Devils Football Team back in the late summer of 1964.
[Please note the attached photos are from the year 1965. The other athlete of color in the photos is Charles Merritt.]
During the 1960s, there were no pee-wee football teams in East St. Louis or organized tackle football until the ninth grade in junior high school. After reading an article in the Metro-East Journal about the Little Red Devils,
I decided I wanted to play football for the Little Red Devils. During the late summer 1964 at the age of 12, I hopped on a Bi-State bus from my home town of East St. Louis, IL and rode that bus up the hill into Belleville, IL.
As I rode that bus, I saw a group of kids practicing football in field behind an elementary school. I remember getting off the bus on West Main Street several blocks short of Belleville Township High School.
[See the elementary school in the background of the photos.] I brought my registration fee with me and a note from my pediatrician. I signed up for football that day. I can still recall how happy I was to be a Little Red Devil!
We played several teams from St. Clair County and north St. Louis County. I especially remember our games against the Little Knights. Our motto unbeknownst to our coaches, was a politically incorrect cheer of “we are coming to pass and kick ass!”
I have fond memories of my time playing football with the Little Red Devils. But we must remember that during the years of 1964 and 1965, our country was undergoing significant changes regarding issues of race.
I recall several instances of being called the N-word during our football games. However, it is important to note that my coaches never let those instances of racial intolerance go unchallenged.
I later played linebacker at East St. Louis Senior High School and Illinois State University where I made the “1974 Academic-All American Football Team.” I went on to graduate school, got married, and raised a family.
In closing the purpose of my email was to let you know that the Little Red Devils football experience had a positive impact on a young kid from East St. Louis, IL.
Edward R. Smith, Rh. D. | Supervisory Education Program Specialist
U.S. Department of Education | Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education