Remembering a Titan: The Life of Herman Boone

Photos: T.C. Williams H.S. Football Boosters/Walt Disney Pictures

There are people in life who arrive on the scene at the crossroads of history. Their decisions and their courage can determine the space and fabric of our world and community. They come from all walks of life and from all professions. 

One such treasure was Herman Boone, a Rocky Mount native.

Boone was the inspirational coach behind the movie “Remember the Titans,” in which he was portrayed by Denzel Washington. He passed away on December 18 at the age of 84 from lung cancer. 

His work with the T.C. Williams High School football team in Alexandria, Virginia drew national headlines when he led the racially integrated team to its first state championship, showcasing a winning streak that got the team all the way to the national championship. 

We wanted to honor Boone and his message of triumph, equality and dedication by providing a few brief highlights of his life. 

A Local Hero

He was born October 28, 1935 and completed both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from North Carolina Central University, where he studied physical education. His coaching career took him to Nottoway and Blackstone, Virginia, 

In 1961, he was the head football and basketball coach at E.J. Hayes High School in Williamston, NC, where he was also a biology teacher, a physical education teacher and a janitor.  He drew national attention when he led this team to 13 state championships.

This record gained the attention of the Alexandria School Board in Virginia. They actively recruited him to take the helm as football coach at the T.C. Williams High School, known as “The Titans.”

But winning games on the gridiron wasn’t his only challenge.

Easing Racial Tensions

The Titans were a team that was created from rival schools that were united through integration. 

Racial tensions ran high in the area since the school district was integrated, and it presented a unique civil rights opportunity when African-Americans and whites played together as members of the same football team. 

This started a journey of advocacy for equality that continued throughout Boone’s life, according to information from Living Legends of Alexandria, a non-profit organization that honors those who have made “significant contributions to the quality of life in Alexandra, Va.”

Boone was a volunteer with organizations such as the NAACP and the Urban League of Northern Virginia, taking part in many civil rights meetings for more than 40 years in the Alexandria area. 

In addition, during his lifetime, he was able to obtain full athletic scholarships for over 50 African American athletes—athletes who were not given that opportunity before Boone arrived on the scene.

The Famous 1971 Season

What Boone is most remembered---and immortalized on film—for is the record-breaking, incredible 1971 football season, where the Titans had a 13 and 0 record, earning a state championship. They even advanced to the national championship game where they were recognized as the number two team in America.

But the Titans were fighting for more than just touchdowns. 

They faced blatant racism from other teams, coaches and even biased referees, according to an article on Boone featured on the NBC News website.

Their championship season demonstrated much more than their playing ability; it showed the ability to rise above segregation and forced others to see the promise and hope of racial equality for all. 

What set Boone apart was not only his exceptional coaching ability, but his dedication to the welfare of each individual student. It was not unusual to see him helping students with their homework, which not only kept them eligible to play, but also gave them a better chance of getting into college. Throughout his life, he kept in touch with many of his former players. 

Keeping the Community W.A.R.M.

Throughout his rise to fame, Boone never forgot about his hometown. He helped start and fund Rocky Mount’s W.A.R.M. program.

The W.A.R.M. program is one way that the city government makes strides to continually make Rocky Mount better for its citizens.

W.A.R.M. stands for Winter Assistance for Rocky Mount, and it provides help and heating assistance to families who are facing financial difficulties. This includes low-income elderly or disabled citizens. Assistance may also be given to customers who have been recently laid off from their jobs.

The W.A.R.M. program helps customers pay for:

  • Past due heating expenses
  • Wood
  • Gas
  • Coal
  • Oil
  • Electricity

W.A.R.M. Categories of Eligibility

Not sure if you qualify for the W.A.R.M. program? The first criterion you must meet is an immediate need for assistance.
In addition, there are three main categories of eligibility. They are:

  1. Elderly citizens who are 60 years old or older.
  2. Disabled citizens with appropriate documentation of their disability. 
  3. Citizens who were laid off. Those laid off must be due to company closing or downsizing and must have occurred within the last 90 days.

 W.A.R.M is supported by community donations that are tax-deductible. If you’d like more information on this wonderful program offered by city government, you can check it out on the city of Rocky Mount’s website.

How Will You Make a Difference in Your Community?

Herman Boone made a difference on a nationwide stage. Perhaps you’ll never play in a national championship game, but there are plenty of ways to get involved with city government to help make your community a better place. 

There are several commissions and boards where you can get involved in our community to assist with everything from historic preservation to business development. 

Interested in learning more about our local, hometown city government heroes and famous people in the area? Check out our earlier posts:

Congratulations to the Latest Inductees of the Twin County Hall of Fame

Rocky Mount Fire Department Earns National Accolades 

Rocky Mount Police Have Federal Jurisdiction

Eight Famous People From Rocky Mount, North Carolina

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