The Never-Ending Conversation

November 18, 2017

''Ike Maxwell was Elyria's high school football hero in the 1971 season. Now, at 59, he walks the town a troubled and damaged man, a reminder of glory and regret and of the vexing subject of race''

Ike Maxwell

Friday evening in Elyria, and once again the Pioneers of Elyria High School take the field. Football and baseball has always been a part of the ongoing conversation in this small Ohio city, but few players have been more talked about than No. 42, Dynamite Ike.Back in 1971, running back Ike Maxwell led the Elyria Pioneers to an undefeated season. He dominated Saturday headlines, was named an All-American, had dozens of college recruiters knocking on his door.So everything that all of us were, he was, too.

To look back and remember what kind of a person like that, and to make those moves, and then to see him the way he is now where -- I don't know what -- you know, I don't know what's going on, you know, in his mind and that; as far as what it's like to be there.On that best baseball bat on the market. The words he shouts may sound like nonsense.

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But some people in Elyria understand what he's trying to talk about: Glory and regret and community and the one subject that continues to vex many Americans towns and cities, race.He comes in and he screams and screams, you know, but you know what? Ike's a -- he's a good person.

Donna Dove, the owner of Donna's Diner, was new to Elyria High School back then, having moved from an all-white suburb.We'd never talked to a black person, never even got close to them, seen them on TV. First day at Elyria and I'm walking and they're touching my shoulder and I froze, you know, I said, "Oh, my God. They're getting too close to me." I went to school and I went in the bathroom every day because I didn't want anybody touching me, and then I finally I said I'm not coming here anymore.

Donna dropped out of school and never actually saw Ike play. But now she sees Ike so often at her diner that she begins to worry when he doesn't show up. Some of her customers also help him out now and then. Maybe they remember how his football heroics once made Elyria so proud, or maybe it's his connection to a tragic chapter in Elyria's history that they remember. In 1975, a young black man was shot in the back of the head by a police officer during an attempted burglary of an Elyria bar. In his pocket he had six packs of cigarettes and about 50 pennies. The man was Daryl Maxwell, Ike's younger brother.And in the town of Elyria, Ohio, racial tension continued last night - Five buildings damaged by fire bombs, blacks and whites arrested.The violence broke out after a white policeman killed a black burglary suspect.The violence spawned by the shooting lasted three days. Forrest Bullocks remembers how the unrest tore through the social fabric of his city of Elyria.

I don't remember any type of problems between black and whites back then except when they had the one riot where the boy was shot, the Maxwell boy was shot.

His father, Leo, a city councilman, helped to end the violence.

My father was very instrumental in trying to calm the people down at that time, but he went out there, he talked to them, and they listened to him, and after a day or two, things start quieting down.Leo Bullocks is remembered for this and for other contributions to Elyria where a ballpark and a major roadway are named after him. These honors tell a different Elyrian story of race; a story of accomplishment. A Tennessee sharecropper with an eighth grade education, Leo Bullocks had moved to Elyria for a factory job.

If he had stayed in Tennessee, he never could have achieved the things that he did achieve by being in Elyria. He had a wife, six kids, a home that he built himself, people respected him for being a man and not being a black man. He appreciated what he had accomplished in this city 'cause this city was just as good to him as he was to the city.It was a sentiment that Leo Bullocks emphasized as he lay dying in his hospital bed.He told us to look out for our mother and he also said, "Tell Elyria I love her."

Forrest followed in his father Leo's footsteps. He became a city council member, and today remains a prominent figure in Elyria, as does, in his own way, Ike Maxwell. Ike Maxwell only briefly played college football. In the years after the shooting death of his brother, he struggled with drugs and alcohol costing him his marriage. Before long Ike Maxwell was again making headlines but for the wrong reasons. In 1980, for example, he was hit repeatedly in the head with a baseball bat during an altercation in a bar. He suffered multiple skull injuries.

I honor the rhetoric of complex.The memories of the racial unrest in this small city still linger. In Elyria, as in most other communities, race relations remain a work in progress.There's still a lot of prejudice in Elyria, and I think we all notice it sometimes. We try to deny it and look past it. I think it's camouflaged better, I'll put it that way. I think it is camouflaged better.Still there are signs that race relations are improving one person at a time.I don't know what changed me, but I think it's probably this place that really -- that this is where I've really gotten close like to Forrest and his wife, beautiful people, you know. I don't know. Maybe I got older and I just changed.

If you were to go to Donna's Diner on a Friday, for example, when Donna has her lake perch special, you might see Forrest Bullocks and his wife, Gloria, sitting with Donna chatting; and in a corner, quietly eating by himself, you might also see Ike Maxwell.

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