Vandy pioneer graduating four decades later

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Taylor Stokes broke barriers at Vanderbilt, but his experience as the school’s first Black scholarship football player left him so embittered he couldn’t even drive down the street near the university.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Taylor Stokes broke barriers at Vanderbilt, but his experience as the school’s first Black scholarship football player left him so embittered he couldn’t even drive down the street near the university.

He once kept his helmet on as Mississippi State’s student section rained both racial slurs and objects at him while he kicked seven extra points in a big Vanderbilt win. He helped tip over a couple of Volkswagen Beetles after frat boys on his own campus yelled the n-word at him.

Then his own head coach told him before a game in Mississippi to shave his facial hair or find his own way home from Oxford to Nashville. It’s a memory that still riles Stokes up decades later.

“‘Hey coach, wait a minute,’” Stokes recalled Friday. “‘You see what color I am? How the heck am I supposed to get back to Nashville from Oxford, Miss., down here alive?’ So I cut my hair.”

Now time has helped heal old wounds, and the 58-year-old Stokes will graduate Friday – 40 years after signing his grant-in-aid. The man who never wanted to be a pioneer overcame clinical depression, the loss of all four brothers and his father, a divorce and even a life-threatening bout of cancer is about to finish what he started so long ago.

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