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Black History Month: Cedric Maxwell Discusses Racism In Boston, Around The Country

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Cedric Maxwell joined WBZ-TV's Steve Burton to discuss his experiences with racism in Boston and around the country -- both in the present and during his playing days with the Celtics.

Video Transcript

- To celebrate Black History Month, CBSN Boston is bringing you a series of interviews with local leaders and figures who've been instrumental in empowering African-American voices in Massachusetts. Today, we hear the story of Cedric Maxwell, a beloved figure in Celtics history, who spoke with sports director Steve Burton about the times he experienced hatred because of the color of his skin.

STEVE BURTON: I want to talk about the city of Boston and race in the city of Boston. And you've been here since what? 1977, is that correct?

CEDRIC MAXWELL: Yeah, 1977. And Steve, I know that the things you're going to ask me, you know, talk about is Boston more racist than any other city? Boston doesn't have a monopoly on racism. I mean, that's all over the country. You know, that has always been true. I mean, I've had some my worst experience have been in places like Los Angeles, and I played with the Clippers.

So you know, with Boston having more diversity, especially the Celtics. I always talk about them. You know, they had the first Black player, Chuck Cooper. They had the first coach, Black coach, Bill Russell. They had the first starting five in the NBA, so Boston, what the Celtics themselves have always dealt with from a racial standpoint, have been at the forefront. Red Auerbach did it probably better than anybody. He didn't, he didn't believe in green. He didn't believe in, what, he believed in winning. And the players he put on the floor, that's what he felt like they represented and just happened to be Black at that time.

STEVE BURTON: Back in 1977 when you first got here, up until today, how have you seen this city change? Has it changed?

CEDRIC MAXWELL: Well, I think the city's changed a lot. When I first got here, it was always told to me my first day in Boston, 1977, don't go to south Boston. You can't go there as-- why? You can't go there as a Black person. You can't go there. Well, that's changed now. Black people live in south Boston, and the same thing, you look at Roxbury, Dorchester. There were no, no white people that lived in Roxbury, Dorchester.

You know, you talk about down at-- down at Dudley as everybody likes to say, down Dudley. Now you might see a white woman walking a dog down the street in Dudley. So it's changed a lot in a sense where people live, but there's still that undertone of racism, which will always be there until we make a permanent change.

STEVE BURTON: Have you seen the city getting better, though, when you talk about the undertone of racism?

CEDRIC MAXWELL: Yeah. Yeah, this city's gotten better in the way it's dealt with it. You look at some of the people there, the police chief being Black. You look at some of the things that have changed in Boston.

So yeah, I mean, it's a melting pot, and it will always be a melting pot. I think that because of certain incidents early in my career, early in the '70s with the gentleman getting stabbed with the American flag, the Black guy getting stabbed, I think that has always haunted people about what Boston was and what Boston is.

STEVE BURTON: Did you have any incidents personally happen to you when it came to race relations in Boston?

CEDRIC MAXWELL: No, no, not really. You know, and I'll say this for people of color-- and they're screaming at me right now, going, Max, you're an athlete, so you're not treated the same, and that's true. You know, you're not treated the same.

There have been some just things that have happened, but nothing that has been major like every Black person deals with who is just an ordinary Black person in Boston. You know, far worse. For me, it hasn't been that way because of being a celebrity in this town. I am treated differently, but I know that I am still Black, so let's make sure we get to that point.

STEVE BURTON: What does that mean?

CEDRIC MAXWELL: Well, knowing you're still Black is that there are incidents that could happen. People are going to be racially charged towards different things that you might do. They might not come out in their words immediately, but you're still dealing with that even in a housing situation. If you go sell a house, they tell you to take all your paintings or take your family portraits out of the house if you're a person of color.

So there are a lot of different things that happen that you have to look at. But for me personally, there hasn't been anything that I can point to. Well, you know what? Let me back up.

STEVE BURTON: Oh.

CEDRIC MAXWELL: There was one incident which really, I think, defied logic with me, and I think that happened when I was a broadcaster first starting out. There was a guy named Howard Manley who wrote an article about me in the, what was it, was it Globe or The Herald? I don't know which one it was. But he said, Cedric Maxwell-- and he was being critical, and I was just learning the job. He said, Cedric Maxwell is the "pufessor" of Ebonics.

What city could you get away with that? What editor allows that portion to get into the paper? So that is one incident that I look at that I said was blatantly racial. And even the thing about it, Howard Manly happened to be Black, so it was almost like a Black on Black crime. And they put him in a position to attack another Black man. So that would be the one incident that I could think about, me personally, about being Black in the city, which kind of blew my mind.

STEVE BURTON: What message, Max, would you tell other athletes, other African-American athletes, that are about to come play here in this city? What would you say to them?

CEDRIC MAXWELL: You know, I would just say, you know who you are. Identify who you are. Stay true to yourself, and you're not trying to sell out or cop out or anything like that, but you could think of an incident, in particular with Dee Brown when he first got here as a rookie. And he was out in Wellesley, and there happened to be a robbery at the time, a bank robbery.

And Dee Brown at 6'3'' and the guy was 5'8'', they told Dee Brown to stop and face down. They had guns pointed at him. So there are things which happen when you're as of color that you look at, but just stay true to yourself. And I think you teach your kids the same way. You know, you are who you are. Know your heritage. Know your race. Identify yourself with that, and be true to yourself.

STEVE BURTON: Would you say that Boston is a fair city, though?

CEDRIC MAXWELL: Yeah, I think they're fair. I mean, you--

STEVE BURTON: You're hesitant with that answer?

CEDRIC MAXWELL: No, no, I think Boston's a fair city, but no more fair than any other city in America. You know, I think you look at what happened at Fenway Park. It was, and I think wasn't, it was the Jones guy who got called the n-word, you know, but that's happened in Chicago. It's happened in New York, so I think Boston is a fair city to a degree.

I don't think it's-- like I say, you-- people want to say that Boston is up here when it comes to racial divide when it really isn't. Boston has never been like an incident which happened to me in the '70s where, you know, I was in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and couldn't go in the water, and essentially, they had at a beach, they had a fence that went from the top of the beach all the way out in the ocean and to separate Blacks from whites. You know, so there are some things--

STEVE BURTON: Wow.

CEDRIC MAXWELL: --which really haven't happened. Yeah, I mean, I'm born in 1955, so I remember what really the racial tone is when you have a water fountain that has color, and you have a room which says whites only, or you have a movie theater that you couldn't go into. So yeah, I think that the overtones are not as blatant, but I think some of them are still there.

STEVE BURTON: Do you think the marches last summer, when it came to Black Lives Matter, and that has helped this city become better when it comes to race relations?

CEDRIC MAXWELL: I think it is, it's starting to move the right way. I think the needle is moving the right way, because with Mr. Floyd when he died, I think that people saw it on television. They saw him take his last breath, and what reason that he checked that, that was because somebody with, a gentleman was kneeling on his neck. You know, with his knee, and it made people say, why did that happen?

Well, it happened because he was a Black man, so people who have been away from this issue for so long or who didn't identify with it got the chance to see it right there in their face. So I think that that is one reason why Boston, that you saw a lot of people who were in the Black Lives Matter March, who were not of color were there to identify themselves, because of the plight that they saw on TV. So yeah, Boston has changed in that way.

STEVE BURTON: All right, my friend. Anything else you want to add?

CEDRIC MAXWELL: Martin Luther King said it best, I think. It's that the character was the-- it's the-- how does it go? The character--

STEVE BURTON: I want my kids to be remembered for the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

CEDRIC MAXWELL: Not the color of their skin. Yes.

STEVE BURTON: I think I'm in the ballpark.

CEDRIC MAXWELL: Yeah, yeah. I mean that's basically it. You don't want to be identified as your color of your skin, but you want to be identified as the content of your character.

STEVE BURTON: Right.

CEDRIC MAXWELL: Who you represent.

STEVE BURTON: Who you represent.

CEDRIC MAXWELL: As a Black person, you represent the human being, and everybody wants to be treated fairly.

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