Supplement to Beamer
When he joined the Buffalo Bills, in 1971, Tim Beamer had played only five seasons of organized football in his life. How was that possible? What propelled him from a segregated mountain town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia to the highest rung of his sport?
To answer that question, I had to learn about his family, his community, and the kind of steely determination that only adversity can forge.
Here are some pictures that help tell the story.
Tim's parents, Louise and Joe "Jody" Beamer.
Tim Beamer in a photo from his high-school yearbook. No, he did not look "mean."
Tim outside the school he attended in Oldtown, before desegregation.
Tim visits the site of his childhood home on Mockingbird Lane in the Oldtown community of Galax, Va.
An ad for Mink Motors in the Galax Gazette, February 7, 1957. In the photo lower right, Jody Beamer stands in the back row, blacked out by the contrasty image. Later, Mink Motors would fire Jody because he signed a petition asking that Galax integrate its schools.
Tim's mother, Louise Beamer, and his uncle, Ben Beamer, both spoke at a hearing of the Grayson County School Board in September, 1960. This silent video, from WSLS in Roanoke, Va., shows them stand to speak. Source: University of Virginia Library.
Letter denying Joe Beamer's request to enroll his children in Galax public schools. They were spending at least two hours a day riding a bus from Oldtown to Wytheville, Va.. In snow, the round trip could take all day.
Left: On Tuesday, September 13, 1960, station WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia, preserved the scene when seven Black students from Oldtown—Rita Goins, Juanita Goins, William Neil Bryson, Gary Mitchell Bryson, William Douglas Beamer, Peggy Laverne Beamer, and Scarlet Ann Blair—integrated Galax Senior High School. Peggy was Tim’s older sister. William Douglas Beamer—Doug—was Tim’s older brother. Note that the Blacks students had to enter through the gym for their safety. A throng of white students had blocked the front door. The video at right, from WSLS in Roanoke, shows this gang and includes interviews with white people opposed to the integration. Source: University of Virginia Library.
New River District track meet in Blacksburg, Virginia on May 13, 1966. This was Tim Beamer’s last high-school meet. At 0:00, Tim ties for first in the long jump. At 0:26, Tim wins the 100-yard dash. At 1:00, Tim runs the last leg of a relay. At 1:33, Tim wins the 220-yard dash. Source: University of Virginia Library.
During his first year at Galax High, Tim was not allowed to play football, but he ran track and won a trophy, presented by Coach Joe Lindsey. This photo appeared in Tim's yearbook, Knowledge Knoll.
Tim on the football field at Galax High.
Miller Bennington, Tim Beamer, and Coach Verle Brown.
Miller Bennington and Tim Beamer with Joe Lindsey in Galax, where Tim could thank his first coach face-to-face.
Above: Miller Bennington, president of the student body and "rabbit" on the track team.
Right: Tim's high-school yearbook from 1964, his junior year and the first year he played football. In the photos, he is number 22. His check mark apparently signified that a teammate was "cool.' The assistant coach was not one of the cool guys, but Joe Lindsey, the head coach, got a check. According to Miller Bennington, most guys on the team didn't care that Tim was Black, once they'd seen him run. The year before Tim joined the team, the Maroon Tide lost every game.
In the eighth-grade yearbook, my photo had been swapped with that of Mike Williams, a Black kid from Oldtown. On our football team, he was called Beethoven because his practice jersey came from a lost-and-found pile in the band room and bore a portrait of the composer.
In this team photo, I was the little kid on the far left, back row. When my sister saw it, she said, "Neil, were you standing up?" Mike Williams is second from the left, in the front row. Our team shared a practice field with the varsity, so my father could park on the hill and watch Tim Beamer and me at the same time. I didn't fare very well by comparison.
This scholarship was my father's dream for Tim, but Wake Forest retracted the scholarship offer after Tim scored two points lower than the ACC conference minimum for the SAT. Today the conference has no such requirement, and no ACC member school requires the SAT. On the basis of his grades and class rank, Tim would easily qualify, if he were playing today.
Tim at the door of the former Galax Country Club, where he and his date were turned away from the Homecoming dance, even after he had scored four touchdowns in the game.
My father, Craven Caudle, liked hanging out with the coaches. But he wasn't doing that to lobby for me on the team. He was helping the guy with real potential: Tim Beamer.
Tim out to dinner with my mother, Fletcher McNeil. This was the night my journey with Tim began. My mother worked at Galax High when Tim was a student there, and they remember each other fondly.
Lonely and betrayed by Illinois...
Tim (far left, seated) with other freshman football players at the University of Illinois. Number 70 was his roommate, Derek Faison, an All State lineman from Newport News. Both would lose their scholarships in a scandal that punished 14 to 17 athletes (the number is in dispute), most of whom were Black. Tim and Derek say they were never informed of the charges against them or allowed to appeal. They had simply followed instructions from the athletic department and requested small amounts of cash for expenses. Apparently, Illinois sacrificed these athletes to appease the Big Ten and avoid a "death sentence" from the conference. Photo courtesy of Derek Faison.
...Tim found friendship and triumph at Johnson C. Smith.
In this yearbook photo, you can see the strength and confidence Tim gained, once he found his footing at a college that made him feel welcome. He was not eligible to play football during his first year at Johnson C. Smith, but he ran track, setting a CIAA record of 9.3 in the hundred-yard dash. In 1970, his 440 relay team placed second and the prestigious Penn Relays.
During his junior year, Tim wore his favorite number, 22. The next year, Joe Johnson, a veteran returning from Vietnam, took his old number back and Tim was given 33.
Elroy Duncan (number 10) led the Golden Bulls at quarterback and, like Tim Beamer, was named a CIAA All American. But in an era when Black quarterbacks were taboo in pro football, Duncan never got a shot at playing in the NFL. Tim says that Duncan was the best quarterback he ever played with, including the pros. In 1969, he led his team to a CIAA national championship.
Bernard Parker, a gifted kicker for the Golden Bulls, befriended Tim and gave him a place to live. They remain good friends today, and they coached youth-league football together in Charlotte for years.
After a summer of rest and reflection...
After a bike ride during the summer of 1970, Tim Beamer takes a breather on his parents’ front porch in Oldtown. That fall, he would run his way to the title of All American running back. (Photo courtesy of Tim Beamer)
...the Human Bomb explodes.
...and makes history
During his senior year, Tim was named CIAA All American running back and went to Pittsburgh for the ceremony with the other winners plus Muhammed Ali. At this stage, Tim had played only five seasons of organized football.
Letters of interest poured in from NFL teams before the draft. The Bills drafted Tim as a running back, but the team needed defensive backs that year, so they assigned him to a position he didn't know how to play when he arrived in training camp.
Tim with the 1971 Buffalo Bills. He is number 46, third from the left on the front row. Beside him sits Bobby Chandler, number 81, who was often Tim's workout partner. Chandler was O.J. Simpson's friend from USC. Simpson, number 32, appears in the third row, right of center.
Photos are scarce from Tim's two years with the World Football League's Memphis Southmen. Here he is on September 11, 1974, wearing his number from high school, 22.
The player wearing number 76 is not listed on any roster I've found. But you can see the backs of Tim Beamer (22, far right), and former Dolphins stars Jim Kiick (21), a running back, and Paul Warfield (42), a Hall of Fame receiver.
Tim has been inducted into two halls of fame—Galax Gazette Twin Counties Hall of Fame and Johnson C. Smith University.
At halftime of a homecoming game, Johnson C. Smith celebrated the 50-year anniversary of the Golden Bulls' national championship and honored the players from that team. Tim Beamer is in the back row, right of center (arrow).
Teammates and friends for life: Bernard Parker, Elroy Duncan, and Tim Beamer revisit their home turf at Johnson C. Smith.
This photo, possibly taken in 2004, shows the Beamer brothers: Joe, Donald, Tim, and Doug. Doug, who ran a pest-control business with Tim for 30 years, died in 2016. Doug, Tim, and Donald all learned golf as caddies at Galax Country Club.
Tim Beamer Night in Galax
At a reception in his honor, September 29, 2023, Tim Beamer (in suit and tie) posed with his first coach, Joe Lindsey (red cap), his brothers Joe (left, standing) and Donald (left, kneeling), his cousin Richard Tyree (right, standing), and his former quarterback, Miller Bennington (red sweater).
The Beamer brothers and their cousin Richard Tyree formed the 880-yard relay team that broke a Virginia state record.
At halftime in a game between Galax High and George Wythe High School, Tim received a proclamation from the mayor of Galax, an honorary jersey bearing his number, and cheers from the crowd.
Lou Ann Beamer, Neil Caudle, and Tim Beamer.