Eddie Bell, pioneering black football star, dies at 78

Bell
Bell
Posted: November 19, 2009

EDDIE BELL was a pioneer in the ranks of college and pro football. He was the first black All-American and captain of the football team at the University of Pennsylvania, and then one of the brave souls who integrated pro football in the '50s.

His first-person account of those early days as a defensive back for the Eagles is among those featured in the recent book "Gridiron Gauntlet: The Story of the Men Who Integrated Pro Football, In Their Own Words," by Andy Piascik.

His daughter, Elmyra Bell, said that her father talked about fellow players who balked at the idea of African-Americans in the locker room, and the many who supported and helped them.

Edward Boaz Bell Sr., who retired as marketing director of the Pennsylvania Lottery in 1994 after 10 years in the job, died Monday of heart failure. He was 78 and lived in Germantown.

He was born in Philadelphia to Herman Bell and the former Annabelle Skipwith. He graduated from West Philadelphia High School, where he played football and ran track.

He graduated from Penn in 1953. He played for the Eagles for four years, then with the Hamilton Tiger Cats, in Canada, before going with the New York Titans, which later became the Jets.

After his football career ended in the early '60s, Ed became director of community relations for the Atlantic Richfield Co.

He ran the ARCO-sponsored Jesse Owens Junior Track Classic for 14 years, taking young athletes to meets across the country.

Ed worked for a couple of years as a fundraiser for the United Negro College Fund before going to Washington, D.C., and starting his own marketing company, Bell & Co.

Its primary client was the D.C. Lottery, for which he did advertising and marketing. He joined the Pennsylvania Lottery in the early '80s.

His wife, Barbara Lynne Smith Bell, died in 2005. They were married 50 years. She was a pioneer of sorts herself. Her family said that she was the first African-American to graduate from the Pennsylvania Hospital School of Nursing.

Tragically, their son, Edward Bell Jr., collapsed and died in 1974 while practicing with the Canoga Park High School basketball team in suburban Los Angeles. He was 16.

"Dad was a great family man," said his daughter, who is an art-education teacher and poet under the name M.B. Ali Umoja. "He was a strong father who had a great influence on my brother and me."

Ed endured a number of health issues in recent years, including knee problems from his gridiron days, a bout of leukemia and a kidney transplant.

His daughter is his only immediate survivor.

Services: 10 a.m. Monday at Berean Presbyterian Church, Broad and Diamond streets. Friends may call at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Savin Funeral Home, 802 N. 12th St., and at 9 a.m. at the church. Burial will be in Hillside Cemetery, Roslyn.

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