Bill Russell: the Embodiment of African American’s Racial Pride


William Felton Russell was born in an African-American family that, according to the 1930’s definition, could be considered as a low-income family. They could be characterized as common people leaving in a growing neighborhood where the major problems revolved around education and skin color. The family lived in in a small town named West Monroe, Louisiana, which was the black neighborhood of Monroe. Monroe was a relatively wealthy town, with petroleum refineries and lumber mills that provided people with jobs and opportunities for education and development. The two towns were, however, were separated not just by the Ouachita River but also by the type of residents that lived there and the level of development that they showed. West Monroe was an overpopulated ghetto while Monroe was a wealthy neighborhood that was rather sparsely populated and impressively arranged to match the demands of the white inhabitants. Although William Felton Russell was born in a society where African Americans were regarded as an inferior race that was constantly dominated by the white supremacy, he managed to overcome the psychological challenges of belonging to the minority. Being an even-tempered young man, he understands his value as a human being and as an African American and thus asserts his rights by ensuring his personal growth and embracing racial pride. Even though the activity of a great number of black people influenced positively the establishment of the race in general, Bill Russell’s outstanding achievements had a profound impact on uplifting African Americans’ self-esteem.

The Russell Family

Bill Russell was born to Charles and Katie Russell where Charles was initially a janitor and only became a truck driver later when the Second World War broke out. He is described as a stern and proud man, and he sacrificed his principles only in order to avoid problems . A significant incident that would illustrate his character is the case with a gas station when he wanted to leave it as the staff members did not want to attend him unless all the white customers were served. He continued to wait only because the owner came out with a gun and threatened to shoot him if he insisted on leaving. This situation proves that the pride of the black people was immolated in order to prove the supremacy of the other party and avoid conflicts. The peaceful solution of this situation consisted in irresistance to the demands of the deluded white man, and this was a lesson that enabled Bill Russell to survive during the tough times after they moved to California.

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Katie Russell is, on the other hand, considered as a very loving mother who, unfortunately, passes on shortly after Bill’s 12th birthday. The demise of mother adversely affected Bill given that he was much closer to his mother than to father . One of his strong memories about his mother was the incident when she was required to change as the police officer considered her dress to be ‘a white woman’s dress’. The fact that she obeyed this request to avoid confrontation with the law also taught Bill to be patient and tactical in defending himself when the opponent is much stronger. This lesson continues to be passed from generation to generation the world as it helped Bill to become the man that he is currently known as.

When Bill Russell was 8, the Russell family was forced to leave Monroe along with the rest of the African Americans who were moving North and West in search of better opportunities, and they decided to leave for California. In Louisiana, they were considered to be a rather wealthy family according to the standards of the ghetto neighborhood, and thus, their life was easier than those of most of their neighbors. In the wild West, however, the income of the family lowered as their father became a truck driver, and thus they had to live in housing projects at one time or another. It was during this time that Bill Russell started to love and respect his father appreciating his efforts to provide for his family despite the hardships he was facing. In addition, after the death of his mother, Bill became closer to his father who was then working as a steel worker due to the need to be beside his children and take care of them. All the aforementioned facts prove that the Russell family went through many difficulties while Bill was still a child, which helped him to become a strong person in a world where skin color determines almost everything including the place to eat or pray.

Monroe, West Monroe, and California

Monroe was a small town in Louisiana where natural gas was newly discovered in 1916. The people there were thus rather wealthy and had good jobs and thriving businesses. As such, the neighborhood was rather developed and adjusted to comfortable life. The distinctive thing about this town was the fact that there were plenty of job opportunities that appeared with the discovery of oil, but these opportunities were strictly reserved for the whites. The blacks were left to languish in poverty as they only had the ‘privilege’ of getting jobs from the unskilled category as it is obvious from the fact that Bill’s father was an underpaid janitor. He was, however, one of the lucky representatives of the neighborhood considering that the Russell family was considered a rather accomplished one before they left for California.

West Monroe was the exact opposite of Monroe despite being only separated by the river. This was a ghetto region with blacks only, and it was riddled with poverty and unemployment. It can be seen here that people of Louisiana were openly divided by their skin color, and it actually affected their socioeconomic status, as well. Living in West Monroe was a constant reminder of the inferiority of the African American population as they had to live in such poor conditions. Growing up in such an environment can clearly impede the self esteem of a young black man given the importance and wealth associated with the white skin.

California was then supposed to be a good place to live for the Russell family given that Charles Russell was able to find a job as a truck driver in contrast to being a janitor in Monroe. However, the West was not as kind as Louisiana had been considering the high cost of living and stiff competition for work. Moreover, when Bills’ mother died, the father needed to take care of children, which implied a reduction in their family income since steel workers earned less than truck drivers. Nevertheless, California opened new opportunities for the young man as he was able to study, and it was in California where e got interested in basketball and where he was noticed by a college scout.

Russell’s Experiences in California

During his life in California, Bill explored his talents and developed his identity. Living in the housing projects, losing his mother and getting to study at the McClymonds High School are the main remarkable episodes of his life in California. At first, his basketball achievements were not high, but the high school couch encouraged him, which helped to sharpen his skills in basketball playing.. Bill Russel is known for reinventing the defense by jumping and blocking shots rather than being defensive and waiting to respond to the mistakes of the opponents. Off the court, this young man was able to open relationships that promoted him safely in the society, which was not only risky but also highly toxic given the negative actions that the black youths were involved in at the time. He managed to survive the hardships of the housing projects and bad economic situation because of his personal strength and the kind of support system that he built for himself by choosing the people he associated with and the ones he idolized including his father and late mother’s memory.

His Successes and –°ontribution to the Black Pride

African American history is full of examples where racial discrimination was the main constant factor that played a role in negative circumstances including the traditionally bad lifestyle conditions enhanced by ethnic characteristics. Racial discrimination in Bill Russell’s time dictated the side of the river, on which they lived . It dictated the kind of work their parents could find and ultimately the amount of money they could earn and how their family could live. Were they living on the Monroe side, the Russell family would have been considered as paupers, but for the West Monroe side, they were ‘average people’ who were able to survive. Bill Russell’s first success is thus not limiting his potential by virtue of his skin color. He was fully aware of the challenges that he was likely to face as a young black man and was thus strong enough to take them on and consider them positively. In high school, he was not discouraged by his inability to play well and continued to practice until he became consistent in the team. He also was not discouraged when he failed to attract college scouts, and eventually he was called to the University of San Francisco. His first contribution to the black pride was the way, in which he lived to fight another day. He was not deterred from his ambitions by any of the challenges thrown by the society but rather worked hard to overcome them at a time when there was not much hope for the black race.

Another element of black pride that is evident in Bill Russell’s life story is the way, in which he defined himself rather than allowing the society to define him. First, he was a black young man living at a time when being black was by all means a disadvantage . He, however, did not use it as a reason to diminish his potential. The young man strived to be the best by refraining from bad company while living in the housing projects, to persevering and practicing on the court to become the best at defense, and playing very well despite not being called by any university until he got spotted last by the USF scout. Ordinarily, blacks were considered as impatient, and it was rightfully so given the tendency to resort to the social constructs of the minority being disadvantaged and thus unlikely to succeed. The fact that persevering enables success is inspirational and thus breaks the ideology that blacks give up easily. This reinforced black pride by breaking the stereotype and showcasing patience and perseverance as characteristics that can be possessed by African American individuals.

In more ways than one, the African American community thrived in social unity where the success of one reflects upon the possibilities of the entire community. This means that by succeeding, despite the situation that he grew up in, Bill Russell showed the rest of the world that being an African American is not a weakness per se. He showed that every challenge facing the African American people can be overcome or at least considered as a stumbling block or learning experience. By setting this example for the African American youth, he not only changed the perspective of the African American youth with respect to their future prospects but also that of the rest of the world as they came to appreciate the strength and potential of the blacks thus restoring their pride as a community. Bill Russell set an example for all the youth enabling the ideology of white supremacy to diminish in the face of African American prosperity.


The history of the African American people is mostly considered in the context of struggling against poverty, social injustice, crime and marginalization, as well as outright victimization and ill- treatment. From the stories of slavery to those of the reconstruction and present day racism, there have been a lot of positive examples that were not paid much attention to and yet they impacted the world very positively. A success story about a white male individual could be easily ignored, but when the story is about a black male who grew up in the 1930’s, its influence is undeniable, with respect to African American pride and youthful inspiration in the face of tremendous challenges.

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