The NHL became the last major professional sports league to add Black players to its ranks when Willie O’Ree, then a 22-year-old forward, skated for the Boston Bruins in the late 1950s. Today, that achievement — and O’Ree’s lifetime of promoting the game in minority communities — is being recognized in Boston and on Capitol Hill.
O’Ree, now 86, was playing Minor League Hockey in Quebec when he got the call.
“January the 18th, 1958, the Bruins called the Quebec Aces and said, ‘We want O’Ree to meet the Bruins in Montreal to play two games against the Montreal Canadiens,'” he said.
O’Ree did what Jackie Robinson had done 11 years earlier — integrated a White sport as a Black professional.
“They sat me down and said, ‘Willie, we brought you up because we think you can add a little something to the club. Don’t worry about anything else about just going out and playing your game,'” he said.
The speedy winger did, and after his debut, described it as the “greatest thrill of my life. … I’ll always remember this day.”
O’Ree was talking about achieving his ultimate goal: playing in the NHL, not making racial history. “I didn’t recognize that I had broken the color barrier until I read it in the paper the next day,” he said.
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SOURCE: CBS News, Major Garrett