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Family remembers LM Ellis, first Black basketball player for APSU

LM Ellis
Posted at 7:17 PM, Jun 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-07 20:17:25-04

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A city is saying goodbye to a man who helped change athletics in our part of the country and bring new opportunities for the generations to come. Following his death at 79, the family of LM Ellis talks about the pride they feel for his lasting legacy.

A picture sits in a living room of a 1961 basketball team from Burt High School, at one time an all-Black school in Clarksville.

"There was complete segregation at that time," said Darrel Johnson, son-in-law of LM Ellis. "There were places you couldn't go. There were places you couldn't be seen."

The man in the back row of that 1961 basketball team picture is Ellis, who lived by a mantra this room knows well.

"Failure is not an option," a family said in unison, sitting around a table of pictures of Ellis.

The people in the room know Ellis as a husband, a father, a father-in-law and a grandfather. His community knows him as a part of their history.

"He is and forever will be the first African American scholastic college athlete at Austin Peay and also in the Ohio Valley Conference," said Johnson.

The court where Ellis played still stands on Austin Peay's campus. Wife Mary Ellis said her husband knew the importance of playing on this court at a time of a changing America.

"That made me feel really proud of him," she said. "He was the first Black man to open doors."

In fact, Ellis knew another trailblazer. A close friend since childhood was sprinter, sports icon, and Olympic champion Wilma Rudolph.

Today, the jersey that belonged to Ellis hangs over the basketball court at APSU. His face is part of the school's athletic hall of fame.

Just days after the death of Ellis, a family so appreciates all the ways he's still remembered.

"It really opened up my eyes to see the mark that he had left," said Mary Ellis. "My husband was the man, the legend, LM Ellis."