In this episode we celebrate Black History Month and are joined by author Bruce Wolk to explore the inspiring life of sports legend Junius Kellogg and his incredible connection to Pan American World Airways.
Junius Kellogg was born on March 16, 1927 in Haverstraw, New York to Lucy Lee Williams and Theodore Kellogg. Young Junius always excelled in the classroom as an outstanding student, but also was an exceptional athlete in every sport he attempted.
While in high school, Junius made the Virginia State High School All-Star Team, as well as, earning earn high marks in academics. After graduating in 1946, he was awarded a scholarship to West Virginia State, however, he was drafted into the U.S. Army after only one semester.
While in the military in 1948, Junius was named 1st Army all-around athlete. The next year he was offered a basketball scholarship to Manhattan College as the school’s first African American scholarship recipient. When eligible to play in the 1950-1951 season, the 6’10” Kellogg made an immediate impact on the team.
In January 1951, after reporting that someone was attempting to bribe him, Junius helped authorities uncover the biggest betting scandal in collegiate basketball history. And was subsequently hailed a national hero for his honesty and courage.
But despite this, a career in the NBA eluded him mainly because being the whistleblower embarrassed some of the league’s executives and star players that were likely involved in past betting schemes. After graduation in June 1953, he was invited to join the Harlem Globetrotters, even though he still dreamed of becoming a professional basketball player in the NBA.
That dream was shattered and his life forever changed on April 2, 1954 when a horrific car accident left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. While recovering in the Bronx Veterans Hospital, Junius was approached to be head coach of the Pan Am Jets, a wheelchair basketball team sponsored by Pan American World Airways. In addition, Pan Am offered him a job in the accounting department.
He became the first African American coach in the history of wheelchair basketball, and with the Pan Am Jets brought the sport to people throughout the world. Junius coached the U.S. Wheelchair Basketball team to a gold medal at the Tokyo 1964 Paralympic Games.
Inspired by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, he left coaching and devoted his professional life to community activism through the New York City Development Agency and the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association. Junius Kellogg has been inducted into the National Wheelchair Basketball Association’s Hall of Fame, as well as, the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
He died at age 71 on September 16, 1998.
To learn more about Mr. Kellogg and to watch a tribute video, visit the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum.