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Obituary: Ray Kemp / Second black to play in the NFL; last survivor from first Steelers team

Friday, March 29, 2002

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

One of the highlights of Ray Kemp's football career came when he stood on the sideline before a game in Three Rivers Stadium in 1982. The Steelers were celebrating their 50th anniversary. Mr. Kemp, then 75 years old, stood among a group who played on their first team in 1933.

"These guys were standing there, a goodly number, eight-10, from that team," said Dan Rooney, the Steelers' president. "Jack Lambert went to the sidelines and shook hands with every one of those guys. He said, 'I really thank you for making this game possible for me and what we have today.' "

Mr. Kemp, who died Tuesday in Ashtabula, Ohio at 94, blazed paths that went beyond playing in five games for Art Rooney's first NFL team. He became only the second African-American player to play in the league. He also went on to coach Olympic gold-medal-winning long jumper Ralph Boston at Tennessee State University.

His stay in the NFL did not last long because, after that 1933 season, no black football player would appear on a roster in the NFL until 1946, a de facto ban that ended with four black players on rosters that season.

Mr. Kemp, a native of Cecil, Pa., and a Duquesne University graduate, returned here for several functions involving the Steelers in recent years, including their "throwback" game in 1994 when the Steelers wore replica uniforms of the 1933 team, which had been known as the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was the last surviving player from that '33 team.

"He thought very highly about being part of the Steelers," Rooney said. "He was one of those guys that my father brought in. He had played on some of the teams that my father had prior to going into the NFL."

Mr. Kemp starred on Art Rooney's J.P. Rooney's team, a semi-pro squad that served as the forerunner of the Steelers. The team barnstormed across the country before Pennsylvania's blue laws were amended to allow pro football to be played on Sundays. Mr. Kemp also played for Erie's Pennsylvania Pros.

"I didn't know him, obviously, as a player," Dan Rooney said, "but when he came back in the '40s and '50s, he would always make a fuss over us all. He was very proud of being a Steeler."

Raymond H. Kemp Sr., was born April 7, 1907 in Cecil, the son of Ono and Hattie (Perkins) Kemp, and had been an Ashtabula County resident since 1995. He graduated from the Cecil School District and earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from Duquesne University. He furthered his education at the University of Pittsburgh, Ohio State University and the University of Michigan.

He distinguished himself as the director of health, physical education and athletics and coached varsity football, basketball, and track and field at Bluefield (W.Va.) State College, Lincoln University in Missouri, and Tennessee State University.

He was recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the black pioneers in the game. He also was honored by the Duquesne University Sports Hall of Fame and the Western Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. He earned the Outstanding Educator Award from the Conference of the Pennsylvania Black Basic Education Association.

He is survived by his wife, Lila Lee, whom he married in 1933; a son, Raymond H. Jr. of Ashtabula; a daughter, Carolyn Todd Kemp of New York; and two brothers, Daniel and Leonard of McDonald, Pa.

A service will be held 11 a.m. tomorrow at Ducro Funeral Home, 4524 Elm Ave. in Ashtabula. Burial will be at Greenlawn Memory Gardens, North Kingsville, at a later date.

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