CANTON — Several hundred people gathered at Stadium Park on Wednesday afternoon to see the new memorial to Marion Motley.
After four of Motley’s grandchildren pulled back the cover, the crowd applauded and surrounded the bronze sculpture for photos. It shows Motley, one of the first black professional soccer players of modern times, mid-step over protest posters with statements such as “Cursed is the man who integrates.”
The statue, which stands in front of a brick wall with the donors’ names on one side and “1946” on the other, is on an island where Stadium Park Drive NW intersects with Harrison Avenue NW or McDaniels Way – the 2021 was honorably named for NFL coaches Josh and Ben McDaniels and their father, former McKinley football coach Thom McDaniels.
A look backMarion Motley statue will be installed in Stadium Park
“We are fortunate that the Marion Motley Memorial was built at this gate location,” said Doug Foltz, director of Canton Parks and Recreation. “A gateway to our beautiful Canton Parks, to the Hall of Fame where Marion Motley was enshrined in 1968, and a gateway to McKinley High School, his alma mater, where he played football.”
Marion Motley’s legacy extends beyond the NFL career
Antonio Hall, McKinley High School memorial committee member and head football coach, said Motley’s legacy extends beyond his successful football career. Hall was moved to action two years ago when his students were once again unaware of Motley.
“I vowed then to do something to educate the people of this community and to remember this forgotten hero,” he said.
Motley’s family moved to Canton from Leesburg, Georgia when he was just a few years old. He graduated from McKinley High School and began playing as a fullback and linebacker for the Cleveland Browns in 1946.
A look back:Marion Motley statue was looking out for Canton
Motley and Kenny Washington, Woody Strode and Bill Willis reintegrated the National Football League that year. The next year, Jackie Robinson did the same for professional baseball.
“Now we finally have an opportunity to recognize the forgotten four, and one in particular, Marion Motley,” said Council President William Sherer II Playing physically violent games paved the way for black athletes at the highest echelons of professional sports today.”
Other speakers included Mayor Thomas Bernabei; Jim Porter, President of the Hall of Fame; JR Rinaldi, President of the Canton Park Commission and Canton City Schools BOE; Joe Horrigan, senior advisor to the Hall; and each member of the Memorial Fund Committee. Remarks during the dedication ceremony noted the long overdue honor, Motley’s service in the US Navy, and his presence in the Canton community up until his death from prostate cancer in 1999.
Although the city renamed a northeastern street near the former site of the Negro Oldtimers Activity Center Motley in 2002, a group of community members felt more was needed to commemorate him and worked together to make it happen.
“Our family is so grateful that he is honored in this way”
Memorial Fund Committee members Dave Jingo, Jill Thomas, Mike Hairston, Hall and RJ Van Almen raised approximately $128,500 for the statue over the past two years. They especially thanked Josh McDaniels, who donated $90,000 to the effort.
Local artist Spyro Spondyl created the concept design, and architect Rodney Meadows turned it into an architectural rendering. Massillon Plaque collaborated with sculptures in Italy who made the bronze statue.
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“Our family is so grateful that he is honored in this way,” said Joe Dose, Motley’s grandson, at the dedication.
Ronald Motley Sr., the soccer star’s son, said the ceremony was an “awakening” for him to who he was as a father. He also said it’s worth noting that his father joined the Browns as a 26-year-old rookie.
Several of Motley’s relatives, including his nephew Ronald Walker, attended the ceremony.
“I thought it was beautiful,” Walker said afterwards. “The presentation was wonderful.”
Reach Kelly at 330-580-8323 or [email protected] On Twitter: @kbyerREP