Old Town Rock Hill, South Carolina
CONQUERED BARRIERS TO EQUALITY
When Evans M. George passed away in 2013, newspaper headlines referred to him as a legend. While many South Carolinians recalled his athletic career, longtime residents of York County also remembered his considerable accomplishments off the gridiron.
Known as “Buck,” he was born in Rock Hill in 1932. A member of the Catawba Indian Nation, he was the first non-white player on the Clemson Tigers football team. It would be another 20 years before an African American would wear the Clemson jersey. The “Rock Hill Rocket” set numerous individual records at Clemson, including being the first to run for more than 200 yards in a game and a record 90 yard run against Furman in 1951 that stood for five decades. His leadership was evidenced as teammates elected him captain of the 1954 team. Although he was drafted by the Washington Redskins, Buck’s professional football career was cut short by injury.
After Clemson, Buck spent nearly 60 years standing up for equality in his community. He coached Gray Y football in Rock Hill for many years and served on the Rock Hill Public Parks and Recreation Commission for 43 years. Through his efforts, the city adopted a policy that all young people would be allowed to participate in youth sports programs, regardless of ability to pay. In 2013, he was awarded Rock Hill’s Key to the City for his service to public recreation. He also served Catawba families as chair of the tribe’s Education Committee for 18 years.
When Buck married Kay Merchant in 1952, their marriage, between a Native American and a white woman, violated so-called miscegenation laws, which would not be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court until 1967. Never one to suffer injustice, Buck stood in open defiance of those unjust laws, petitioning the governor and writing editorial letters to newspapers that pointed out his mixed marriage. South Carolina did not remove language that prohibited mixed-race marriages from the state constitution until 1998. At any time during those years, Buck and others in such unions could have been prosecuted under state law. This long-delayed vindication was one of Buck’s proudest accomplishments.
Even still, his most noteworthy achievements were as a leader of the Catawba Indian Nation. Buck served as assistant chief for 33 years and as chief for two years. He was a member of the tribal team that negotiated the historic 1993 settlement of the Catawba’s 150-year-long claim to some 140,000 acres in York and Lancaster counties. Not only did Buck and fellow leaders use their own financial resources to fund this effort, they also placed themselves and family members at physical and financial harm by seeking return of tribal lands that had been unjustly taken from their ancestors. He was noted for his calm demeanor and refusal to engage in recrimination.