When I accepted this position in February of last year, I did so with a promise that I’d always be transparent with our readers about any mistakes we make.
After all, our staff – consisting of 10 wonderful people – is entirely human, and we all make mistakes. I wish we had a few perfect robots wandering about, but we don’t. We may have them in a few years, but, until then, we’re still manually building the pages of our publications and creating content for you to enjoy the old-fashioned way (also known as the human element to, you know, mess things up on an occasional basis).
All of that above text brings me to my point. We made a mistake in the Feb. 25 print edition and specifically on Page 3A, which was a profile of Black Hattiesburgers who have “moved the needle” in terms of achievements or through their continued struggles for equal rights for all. Specifically, we ran an incorrect photo of Eugene Short, who was a star basketball player in his high school, college and NBA years. We deeply regret the error, and I accept full responsibility for it. I could give you the technical reason for why the error occurred, but I won’t. It boils down to the fact that it was a mistake; we have corrected our e-edition (available after 10 a.m. Thursday) and also the web story, but I want to make it right.
I hope to do that by telling you a bit about Eugene Short and by attaching the correct photo of him to this column. I have to admit that, before I started the research for our Black History Month page, I was only vaguely aware of Eugene Short and his brother, Purvis. (Just in case you didn’t know, I’m not a huge sports person. In fact, I barely know what NBA stands for, and, if you ask me who my favorite player is, I’d say Michael Jordan or LeBron James. That’s just because they’ve been in movies I’ve really enjoyed. I’ll give you a couple of recommendations here: Jordan was fantastic in “Space Jam,” and James was great in “Trainwreck.”)
Anyway, let’s get back to the incredible Short brothers. When we started our planning for a Black History Month feature, we reached out to Glenda Funchess, a local civil rights lawyer and all-around fantastic person, for her advice on how to proceed. Funchess was a member of the first integrated graduating class in Hattiesburg public schools, and her advocacy has been one of the key drivers in the recording of Hattiesburg history as it pertains to civil rights. As always, she was incredibly gracious and provided us with a ton of valuable information on Black Hattiesburgers who have done incredible things.
Using her guidance, we dived into the subject matter, and I explored more about the brothers who were such basketball phenoms at Hattiesburg High. Eugene – who died at age 62 in March 2016 – was born in 1953, and he is best known locally for leading the school to a 1972 state basketball championship. He did so with an astounding talent, but he also accomplished this goal under the pressure of a transfer from the all-Black Rowan High to the previously all-white Hattiesburg High.
In many ways, Eugene helped to integrate the entire Hub City. Rick Cleveland, the famed Mississippi sports columnist, noted in a 2018 column that, because of Eugene, “many Hattiesburg folks saw for the first time Black people and white people working together and playing together – and being better for it. Young white people, who had never had a Black friend, suddenly had not only Black friends but a Black hero.”
That Black hero was the 6-foot-6-inch Eugene. After his stellar high school years, he went on to play college hoops at Jackson State University, and he was the ninth overall draft pick in the 1975 NBA Draft. He played in the NBA – first with the Seattle SuperSonics and later with the New York Knicks – for 34 games between 1975-1976.
According to Cleveland, Eugene – hero that he was to so many – was only human, and he experienced many of the same demons and emotions that we all face. The columnist wrote in a 2018 commentary that Eugene struggled with alcoholism and numerous health problems, including diabetes. His pro ball career ended in 1976 with a mile-long list of achievements, all of which were trailblazing in nature.
In his relatively short (by modern standards) life, Eugene made a tremendous difference in the lives of many and especially in the life of his younger brother, the (also) legendary Purvis Short. Like Eugene, Purvis led his Hattiesburg High team to a state basketball championship (in 1974), and he also played at Jackson State. In fact, he played one season there with his big brother, and Purvis charted a record as the school’s all-time leading scorer. He continued to follow his brother’s footsteps when he was drafted into the NBA as the fifth overall pick of the 1978 draft.
Purvis played in the NBA for 12 seasons with teams such as the Golden State Warriors, the Houston Rockets and the New Jersey Nets. At 6 foot, 7 inches, he had 1 inch of height on his brother, but, according to Cleveland, he had to work harder for everything that came his way.
In a 2017 column, Cleveland clarifies this description. He quotes Tim Floyd, a Hattiesburg native and NBA coach, who said of Eugene: “He could do it all.” Cleveland goes on to write: “Two years behind Eugene, Purvis Short was a starkly different story. Seemingly nothing came easy … his jump short, two-handed from behind his head was as awkward as it was inaccurate. And that’s where Johnny Hurtt, the basketball coach at Hattiesburg High at the time, entered the picture.”
In the same column, Purvis credits Hurtt and his older brother for making him into a fine basketball player. In fact, Purvis – who, after his brilliant NBA career, continues in the sport with the NBA Players Association as its director of player programs – said of Eugene: “This is my life’s work, and, when you get right down to it, it’s because of Eugene and all he went through. I love my brother.”
Cleveland ends his 2018 column with this note: “In many ways, (Eugene’s) life was that of a shooting star, a meteor. But folks in Mississippi, especially Hattiesburg, remember when the star named Eugene Short shone brightest of all.”
I hope you’ll forgive our error and instead focus on the meteoric legacy of the Short brothers and especially of Eugene, who was able to spark such inspiration in a deeply divided city and in his kid brother.
Now, I want to point out the biography that was unintentionally omitted from the Feb. 25 edition. Instead of Eugene Short’s photo, a photo of NFL great Harold Jackson was used, and Jackson deserves his own time in the spotlight. He was born in 1945 in Hattiesburg, and he was a 1989 inductee into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. After an impressive career at Jackson State, he was drafted in the 12th round of the 1968 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams.
Jackson went on to play for the Rams, the Philadelphia Eagles, the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, and, again according to Cleveland, he was the leading receiver of the decade in the 1970s. His impressive professional career stats include 579 passes for 10,372 yards and 76 touchdowns, and he was a five-time Pro Bowl player.
After retiring from professional ball, Jackson continued his affiliation with the NFL for 10 years as a receivers coach. He also worked as the receivers coach at Baylor University and as head coach at his alma mater, Jackson State. He was inducted into the inaugural Hattiesburg Hall of Fame in 2018, and he remarked at the time: “I can’t tell you how much this means to me … this is home. This is where it all started.”
Truly, Hattiesburg is blessed to have such a strong group of “meteors.” They have cut paths for others to follow, and, for that, we’re eternally grateful. We’ll continue to find meaningful ways to capture their legacies, and we’ll work harder in the future to avoid accidental and unfortunate errors. We appreciate your grace, and we look forward to continuing to tell your stories. Thank you, as always, for reading.
Joshua Wilson is the editor at Hattiesburg Publishing, which produces The Pine Belt News and Signature Magazine. Any and all feedback can be sent to him via email at email@example.com.