A Kokomo man who grew up in the 1960s in Newport, Kentucky received a surprising letter this week. It was from an old basketball teammate who wanted to apologize for the racism he encountered.
We can never fully appreciate what people like Eugene Britton Carter grew to accept as normal. Racism and segregation were of course part of the constitution.
But now at 72-years-old, Eugene was reminded of a time when he was just a teen. He and three other black basketball players couldn’t attend a tournament in Georgia simply because they were black.
“I was kind of shocked when I read it because I hadn’t seen or heard from Tom since 1961. And then to write me a letter apologizing to me for something I almost forgot about,” Eugene said.
But Tom Owens hasn’t forgotten the day the team was forced to leave their fellow black players behind.
“This is something I have thought about all my life. And well actually it took a couple years after I got out of high school and started maturing a little bit and became an adult,” Tom said.
Last year Tom talked about the fateful trip to Georgia with his other teammates at a school reunion. They all agreed they wanted to reach out and offer an apology.
“I have been thinking about the right thing to say and all. Finally about a month ago I got the letter written and sent it off to him. I was pleasantly surprised when he immediately called me back to say how much he appreciated it,” Tom said.
Eugene explained he had no ill feelings towards Tom about the incident.
“It bothers me a little bit he’s been carrying that weight on his shoulder for 56 years now. I never knew because when they came back from Georgia as a team we went on as nothing ever happened,” Eugene said.
Now nearly six decades later, Tom and Eugene’s friendship is renewed.
“It’s never too late to say I’m sorry and to apologize and also it’s never too late to do the right thing,” Tom said.
Both men are now in the Newport High School Hall of Fame. Eugene says he hopes to travel to South Carolina to meet Tom and his family.
The two have talked on the phone and plan to keep in touch.