Brave teen remembered for breaking color barrier

Book chronicles short life of record-setting athlete

Former Hahnville High School student-athlete Don Raymond accomplished many firsts in his short life. Not only was the trailblazer the first black athlete to play a sport at Hahnville, he was also the first black four-sport letterman in the state’s history and was the first black player named to Louisiana’s All-State football team.

But Raymond suffered a tragic fate, dying in a car wreck in 1969 at the age of 16.

Though Raymond’s life was cut short, an Ama man is hoping that a new book will push his life and accomplishments back into the spotlight.

Author Glenn Singleton first came to know Raymond through his brother, Larry. Larry and Raymond were best friends and Singleton remembers spending afternoons watching the two play in the yard.

“They were both great athletes and came up together through elementary school,” Singleton said. “They spent all their time together racing, throwing a football around and just competing.”

In his freshman year, Raymond enrolled at Hahnville under the Freedom of Choice rule, which allowed voluntary, not forced, integration. That step has been cited by many as the turning point of integration in St. Charles Parish schools. Once there, Raymond excelled in four sports, playing football, baseball, basketball and track
Raymond accomplished all of this at a time of racial tension and frequent violence in schools across the nation. Retired Supreme Court of Louisiana Justice Harry T. Lemmon said that no one had a greater effect toward accomplishing peaceful integration in St. Charles than Raymond.

“The combined athletic achievements and the outstanding character of this young man had a phenomenal significance on easing racial tension in the community,” Lemmon said. “Don’s untimely death made his legacy even more unforgettable.”

While Raymond gained notice for his athletic accomplishments, he was also remembered as a model student who always had a smile on his face and never got into any trouble, according to former Hahnville counselor Gennaro Duhe.

Singleton has heard the same thing from students who went to school with Raymond.

“He was quiet, but he was very humble,” he said.

Raymond’s demeanor is even more impressive when you consider what he went through while traveling to play football. In a 1992 article in The Hahnvillian, Raymond’s mother, Vera, said her son was refused service at restaurants  at times and at one point the school had to arrange police protection for the football team.

Raymond also suffered physical attacks as well during the games and would often return home with large cleat marks in his back and skin missing everywhere, his mother said.

One of Raymond’s brothers told Singleton that the missing skin was due to bites that the athlete received after being tackled during football games.

But Raymond persevered through it all, playing on both offense and defense for the football team and earning first team All-State honors as a junior.

While Raymond was making a name for himself, Singleton’s brother, Larry, was doing the same at Carver High School. Because the schools were in different divisions, Raymond and Larry had yet to realize their dream of competing against each other in high school.

But when the track coaches from both schools agreed to an intramural meet, both students were ecstatic.

The Saturday before the big relay, tragedy struck. Raymond and his girlfriend were traveling home along River Road in Hahnville when they collided with another vehicle, which was driven by Raymond’s teammate and close friend Danny Wagester.

Raymond was the only fatality.

For his funeral, the hearse passed in front of Hahnville High School and students were allowed outside to pay their respects. One of Raymond’s brothers told Singleton that students had tears rolling down their faces and waved to the family as they passed.

“His brother told me that that is something that has always stuck with him and illustrates just how much Don had changed the lives of the people who knew him,” Singleton said.

Over the years, Larry kept several of Raymond’s momentos, including trophies, articles and pictures of the two together. Larry graduated from Carver and entered the Navy, and Singleton took possession of his brother’s Raymond memorabilia.

“In 1980, I lost everything I had in a house fire, including all of my brother’s Don Raymond items,” Singleton said. “From that point on, every time that Don’s name would come up I would feel terrible, so I decided to write a journal filled with my memories of Don and give it to my brother as a gift.”

Singleton started the journal in 1989, and eventually gathered so much material that he decided to turn his journal into a novel, called “Crossing Over: A Tribute to Don Raymond.”

“The book not only talks about Don’s athletic ability, but how he persevered during a time of very tense race relations,” Singleton said. “Don was very open minded and deep down I believe he knew he could make a difference.

“The players, coaches, students and teachers all got to know Don and today they are in the book talking about not just what a great athlete he was, but the person that he was.”

In fact, Raymond’s sacrifice has paved the way for several notable athletes from St. Charles Parish, including Baltimore Raven’s All-Pro Ed Reed, who played at Destrehan High School.

“The possibility of our success is due in part to the selfless acts of others…Crossing Over has introduced me to one of those giants on whose shoulders I stand. Don Raymond, thank you for your courage, compassion and endurance,” Reed said.

Darius Reynaud, a former Hahnville student who now plays for the New York Giants, participated in a track meet named in honor of Raymond while at Hahnville.

“At the time, I didn’t know or understand the significance of Don Raymond, or the path he paved for people like myself,” Reynaud said. “Crossing Over gave me an opportunity to understand the doors that were opened for me as a track and football athlete as well as a student at Hahnville High School.”

Raymond’s story has even attracted the attention of George Taliaferro, who was the first black football player drafted into the NFL. Taliaferro wrote the foreword to Singleton’s book.

“Can you imagine what a monumental task Don Raymond undertook as a teenager and achieved before the sixteenth year of his life?” Taliaferro said. “Mr. Glenn Singleton has painstakingly researched and documented this epic achievement in glorious detail.

“I am honored to write the foreword. I have been there.”

“Crossing Over: A Tribute to Don Raymond” is available now at Singleton will sign copies of the book at St. Charles Parish East Regional Library at 6 p.m. on May 28. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will go to benefit the Crossing Over Youth Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides financial scholarships to help under-privileged youth with dreams of pursuing careers in athletics and those with learning disabilities.

For more information about the book, contact Dwayne LaGrange at (504)484-9032.


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