Football Part of Planning at LeMoyne-Owen

By Bill Dries

The new $13.5 million four-story residence hall at LeMoyne-Owen College that formally opened Friday, Oct. 18, is the latest symbol of growth on the campus of the city’s only historically black college since 2006.

LOC President Johnnie B. Watson (right) and LOC board chair Robert Lipscomb cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the college’s new residence hall.

(Daphne Thomas, LeMoyne-Owen College)

The next indication of that growth could be a football team.

“I have just received the football feasibility study that we are taking a look at,” said LeMoyne-Owen College president Johnnie Watson. “At some point, the board will say yea or nay to that. That’s probably the next thing.”

The idea of a Magicians football team surfaced in 2010 with a feasibility study beginning as well as some efforts to build support for such a team among alumni.

The school has a number of men’s and women’s sports programs but the school is best known for its men’s and women’s basketball teams. And the basketball teams have been an important part of the school’s legacy since Watson was a student there in the late 1950s.

Watson graduated from the college in 1960 and is the first alumni to serve as president of the college in the Soulsville section of South Memphis.

“Probably 50 years ago. That was before I even attended college,” Watson said of the old football program. “Some people want it to return. But certainly we are going to have to look at the economics.”

On the college’s website,, the page for the athletic department features a poll question about a football team and includes a picture of the last LeMoyne-Owen College football team from 1950 before LeMoyne College merged with Owen College. The team picture includes the slogan “Undefeated Since 1951” under the picture.

In July, Watson appointed Clint Jackson as the school’s athletic director. It was a role that basketball coach William Anderson had also held. But Watson took the action because of NCAA guidelines that suggest college athletic programs should have athletic directors who “serve as a primary athletics administrator and should not have other major responsibilities.”

Anderson remains as the basketball coach.

Jackson, who is the retired principal of Fairley High School, played on the Magicians basketball team and his jersey was retired earlier this year.

The residence hall at 869 Saxon Ave. at Neptune Street is home to 200 students who moved in with the start of the new academic year in August. It is also an important factor in the effort to revitalize the surrounding area. It is about a block from the Stax Museum of American Soul Music as well as the Soulsville Charter School and the Stax Music Academy.

“It’s important not only to the life of the college but to the life of this community that I grew up in, across the street at LeMoyne Gardens housing project,” Watson said.

The college has historically drawn much of its student body from the surrounding South Memphis area, including Robert Lipscomb, chairman of the college’s board of trustees. “Even if they had dorms I couldn’t afford it,” Lipscomb said before talking about the importance of the city’s only historically black college – known as an HBCU.

“An HBCU means more than a college. An HBCU means more than a building. It’s more than a place. It’s an institution,” Lipscomb said. “It holds us up because we can never forget who we are. … And we must never trail the dust.”

The building was funded with money from the U.S. Department of Education and financing from the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Program.

W. G. Yates and Sons Construction Co. was the general contractor and CHASM Architecture LLC was the architect.