Super Bowl and Civil Rights Champions

It seemed to me that the laughter, crossing 2,000 miles and bubbling up over 52 years, is one of the best indications of Vince Lombardi’s success as both a Super Bowl and civil rights champion.
After seeing a photo of herself and Ruth Pitts as part of the “Delay of Game” exhibit at the Neville Public Museum, my mom, Peggy Kostelnik, immediately called her lifelong friend.
“Do I have that thing on my head? I think I know the picture your talking about!” Ruth said. “I have it in my scrapbook at home.”
“I do too!” my mom said.
“We were having high tea!” Ruth said.
And the two ladies laughed us all the way back to Appleton.
“Oh Peggy, this phone call is a great Christmas present,” Ruth said as she paused while running errands near her home in California. “I’m so happy you called.”
Ruth, wife of Packer Packer Hall of Fame halfback Elijah Pitts, and my mom, wife of Packer Hall of Fame defensive tackle Ron Kostelnik, bonded during the two players’ rookie season in 1961.
Their friendship grew as a matter of course, as the two young women navigated the stressful nuances of raising their families in a city neither had ever heard of until their husbands were drafted. That the color of their skin did not factor into theirs or their husband’s close relationship is a credit to both them and Coach Lombardi, who set the tone for both the team and the city they played in.
The “Delay of Game” exhibit showcases Coach Lombardi’s unwavering support for civil rights during an incendiary time in America.
According to NFL Hall of Fame cornerback Herb Adderley, another member of the Packer rookie class of 1961 who is featured prominently in the exhibit, Coach Lombardi brought more than Super Bowl titles to the smallest city in the NFL.
Coach Lombardi was the reason that Green Bay real estate people and people next door accepted black players in the community,” he said when I contacted him this weekend. “Quiet as it was kept, Coach Lombardi was responsible for integrating housing in Green Bay in the sixties that has continued many years later. He deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the great humanitarian and historic effort he displayed for his black players that ended up with many minorities who are now Packers living and working in Green Bay fifty plus years later.”
Until Coach Lombardi intervened, minority players could not find reasonable housing in Green Bay.
“Real estate people and home and apartment owners refused to rent to African American players because of racism,” Adderley said. “It was their right to feel that way because the Fair Housing Act had not been passed yet in Congress. As a result, we had to find whatever housing was available outside of Green Bay. The housing that we lived in was embarrassing for the Packers and for Coach Lombardi, so, after a few years of us living in shacks, he decided to do something about it. He met with some real estate people and told them if they didn’t rent to his black players we would not want to play for the Packers. He made it known that they couldn’t win a championship without us. Soon after that, we were able to locate decent housing in Green Bay.”
Coach Lombardi continued his civil rights campaign into Northeast Wisconsin’s entertainment districts.
A few of the restaurants and bars didn’t want to serve us, so the great coach stepped up for us again,” Adderley said. “He met with the owners of the establishments who were guilty of the racism and told them if they didn’t serve and respect us the same way they treated the white players, he would put their establishments off limits for every team member. He didn’t have to tell any of them twice to treat us with respect. The move helped get more business for the restaurants because fans wanted to meet and socialize with the black players too.”
You can learn more about the history of black players in Green Bay by visiting the Neville Public Museum in Green Bay, where the “Delay of Game” exhibits runs through March.
While you’re there, take a gander at the photo in the left hand corner of the Packer wives display and know that the two very young ladies pictured there enjoying high tea have plans to have lunch together soon.

This is the picture of my mom and Ruth Pitts having tea at Josephine Lenfestey’s house in 1966. They both remembered that the tea was part of an annual Christmas cookie exchange. I need to thank my friends Dave and Laura Marran for sending me this picture and telling me where to find it at the “Delay of Game” exhibit.
This display holds Herb Adderley’s shoulder pads, a vintage Packer tumbler, a signed football from the 1967 season and the 1966 Packer Yearbook cover featuring my dad and NFL Hall of Famer Willie Davis.
If you look closely at this 1966 team photo, you’ll see 36 players and two coaches looking at the camera, and one player, good ole No. 77, looking off to the side. I hadn’t seen this team photo before and it cracked me up. It, too, is on display at the exhibit.
I didn’t realize there had been a limit to how minority players a team could carry. Thankfully, Coach Lombardi broke that crazy rule.
I’ve written before about the prejudice facing Lionel and Vicki Aldridge, and the support they received for their interracial marriage from Coach Lombardi.
Packer greats Herb Adderley, Elijah Pitts and Willie Wood.
The kiosk featuring my mom and Ruth also has pictures of Barbara Adderley and Ethel Carr, wife of Fred Carr, a linebacker for the Packers from 1968 to 1977.
It’s a cool exhibit and well worth the stop.
My mom’s scrapbooks are treasure troves of memories from that fascinating time.

5 thoughts on “Super Bowl and Civil Rights Champions

  1. Wow Laura this is fascinating! What a gift you have and thanks for enlightening us! I’m sharing with my kids…and more!

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