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Group in Canton raising funds to erect statue of ex-Nevada star Marion Motley

Marion Motley
Organizers in Canton, Ohio, are fundraising to build a statue for former Nevada football player Marion Motley. (File)

A group in Canton, Ohio, celebrated Juneteenth last Saturday with the inaugural Running Through History 5K, which honored former Nevada Wolf Pack star Marion Motley, who after color had an historic career with the Cleveland Browns while breaking the pro football color barrier.

Organizers in Canton, Motley's hometown and home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, also are raising funds to erect a statue to honor Motley, one of the top civil rights figures in the sports in the 20th century. Some of the proceeds from the Running Through History race were donated to the statue cause, although raising knowledge of Motley's legacy was also one of the race's goals.

"We are definitely moving forward with the project," Jill Thomas, a member of the Marion Motley Memorial Fund Committee, told the Akron Beacon Journal. "I can guarantee that it's going to come to fruition."

Fundraising for the memorial began in 2020 with donors pledging $150 or more getting their names engraved on a plate fixed to the memorial's brick wall. A donation of $1,000 or more will earn a bronze plaque near the statue. In total, the project is estimated at a cost of $128,500. If donations exceed that number, the organization said it could offer student scholarships under Motley's name.

The group has hit the financial threshold to move forward with a digital rendering of the statue that will be molded into a clay model that will eventually become the full-sized statue. The completion date for the proposed statue will hinge on when the donation goal is reached.

Motley played for Nevada from 1941-43. The university has a couple of images of Motley around the athletic facilities but doesn't have a robust memorial on campus. The same is true in his hometown of Canton, which does include a half-mile street that bears his name (Marion Motley Avenue NE).

Dave Jingo is a member of the group aiming to get Motley a statue in Canton. He is working on a documentary titled “Remembering Marion Motley” that is slated to air on PBS this fall.

"We all feel he should be celebrated for not only football prowess but his civil rights contribution," Jingo told the Akron Beacon Journal of the push for a Motley statue.

The statue is tentatively slated to sit in Stadium Park, which is less than a mile from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which inducted Motley in 1968.

Motley was born in Leesburg, Ga., but moved to Canton at age 2. He transferred from South Carolina State to Nevada, where he starred for three seasons before a knee injury suffered in 1943 caused him to drop out of school and return to Canton. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II starting in 1944 before signing with the AAFC's Cleveland Browns in 1946. He was one of four players to break the pro football color barrier several months before Jackie Robinson did the same in MLB.

A conceptual sketch of the statue displays Motley carrying a football while trampling over a pile of signs meant to depict racial slurs in front of a brick wall with the number "1946," marking the year he helped break the color barrier.

"I can speak for the family to say we are humbly grateful, excited, and I do believe it's something that is well due to honor him," Motley’s niece Candice Washington told the Akron Beacon Journal.

Motley died in 1999 at age 79 of prostate cancer. In June 2020, NSN celebrated what would have been Motley's 100th birthday with a remembrance of his impact in Northern Nevada and the country.

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