The Pointe

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#tbt: Don Barnette, Middie hoopster star, Harlem Globetrotter and author

The sports editor of the Middletown, Ohio, Journal described him as a “fine basketball player and equally fine human being” who wanted his life story known “so that black youngsters of the city could look forward to the same kind of success” he had achieved. (1)

Editor Jerry Nardiello was referring to Don Barnette, a Middletown High “Middie” hoopster standout who, like many other African Americans, endured personal and systemic racial prejudice in this country yet broke many barriers along the way. (1)

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Nardiello briefly described Barnette’s life in the introduction to the latter’s book, “Is My Skin My Only Sin -- Breaking the Color Barrier,” published in 2004.

At one point Barnette was a team member of the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters exhibition basketball team.

“I have known Don (Barnette) from his early days as a basketball player,” Nardiello wrote.”I first saw him as a student athlete at (Middletown’s) McKinley Junior High. When he arrived at Middletown High he had all the attributes of an outstanding guard. He was one of the big reasons the 1952 team was able to win a state basketball championship…” (1)

In 2004 Barnette, by then an Oakland, California resident, returned to his high school alma mater to share his life story -- and advice --  with an audience of young Middies. “The Middletown Journal” covered his visit. (2)

Recalling his transition from high school to college, Robinson stated he had been offered “basketball scholarships to 18 colleges and universities.” But the rescinding of a scholarship from a school he planned to attend --  an action he blamed on race -- prompted Robinson to ask his young audience: “What do you do when you hit a snag?” (2)

He responded : “You’ve got to pick up your character. Get your character in gear,” advising his youthful audience to turn the “whys” into “hows.” (2)

For Robinson, the “why” became a “how” when the scholarship revocation led to his enrolling at Miami University. There, awarded one-eighth of a scholarship, he worked as a waiter, which allowed him to remain at the school. He received a full  basketball scholarship the following year. (2)

According to the Journal article, Barnette played on Miami’s 1954-55 MAC championship team, graduated in 1956 with a degree in physical education and industrial arts, and served two years in the Navy. (2)

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In the late 1950s Barnette achieved the kind of fame many dream of, but few experience. He became a member of the world-renowned Harlem Globetrotters exhibition basketball team.

Barnette “played with the Harlem Globetrotters from 1958 to 1962, though he did briefly leave the team to teach physical education in Middletown City Schools,” the article reported. “His tenure was only a few months -- he left to rejoin the Globetrotters -- but he was the first black male to teach in the district.” (2)

Throughout his career Barnette taught school, was a business owner and a supervisor in the Office for Civil Rights, Department of Education. (1)

In his book he reflected on the “strong patriarch and matriarch of the family and my growing up under that umbrella. I know I could not have been successful without God. Having a strong belief in yourself is good, but with that trust in the Lord made things easier…

“Many times while walking with him and he with me, I thought sometimes I would not make it. I realized that he was carrying me when I could not take the next steps. I had learned wherever you go, go with God...”

(1) Don Barnette’s 2004 biography, “Is My Skin My Only Sin? -- Breaking the Color Barrier,” is available for checkout at MidPointe Library.

(2) “Middies Learn Lesson From Legend” written by Joseph Roberts, Middletown Journal, December 7, 2004.

Photo of Barnette with Middies basketball team and with ball are from the 1952 Middletown High School “Optimist” yearbook, available for viewing on MidPointe Library’s

Digital Archives :

http://www.midpointedigitalarchives.org/digital/collection/Midpoint01/id/8192/rec/1  or in the Ohio Room at MidPointe’s Library’s Middletown location, 125 South Broad Street.

Book cover photo of Barnette is from “Is My Skin My Only Sin? -- Breaking the Color Barrier.” Published in 2004 by author Don Barnette. Available for checkout at MidPointe Library.