One of six Black students involved in a tense confrontation with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and other white students outside a segregated Arkansas high school 65 years ago says “you don’t judge people by the past” and he forgives Jones.
"If he had any animosity, I don't know, but I've forgiven him for whatever reason he was there,” Harold Gene Smith said in an NBC DFW interview Friday.
Smith was 17 years old in September 1957 when an Associated Press photographer captured the iconic moment outside North Little Rock High School.
Jones, then a 14-year-old sophomore, was pictured in the back of a large group of white students.
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Smith, who was wearing a long-sleeved plaid shirt in the photo, said he accepts Jones' explanation that he was just a “curious kid” who just wanted to see what was going on.
"The only thing I really remember about that is that they stood right there on the steps where we couldn't get in and they were making sounds and noise and saying things,” Smith said. “But that didn't really bother us. My father already prepared us for that."
Smith, now 82 and living in Ohio, remembers the confrontation didn't last long.
"They just stood there once they blocked us from going in, we turned around with the preachers and went back home."
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Smith, who happens to be a lifelong Cowboys fan, said he learned years ago that Jones was one of the faces in the crowd.
But it wasn't until the Washington Post published the picture this week that most people knew Jones was there and reporters asked him about it.
"That was, gosh, 65 years ago. A curious kid,” Jones said after the Cowboys game Thursday.
"I can believe that, that he was just curious,” Smith said. "I just looked at it as the past. That was in the past. You don't judge people by the past. You judge them by the future."
Smith also said he believes Jones could have hired more Black people in important management roles, like head coach -- and still can.
"He stands in a position now where he could do more for Blacks than he has done,” Smith said.
Back then, Sarah Davidson was just nine or 10 years old, in elementary school.
"I don't know what was in Mr. Jones' head. I was not there,” Davidson said.
Davidson is now the incoming president of the alumni association of the former all-Black S.A. Jones High School, which closed in 1970 as white schools across the South were desegregated.
The photo surfaced in the Post on Wednesday only after Jones himself told an Arkansas historian he was in the picture, Davidson said.
"We're very thankful for Jerry Jones volunteering that information. He is connecting us to history even more,” she said.
Davidson said she would like to talk to Jones today for a book she is co-authoring on the history of African-Americans in North Little Rock from 1850 to 2000.
"I would say Jerry, it's nice to meet you and I read your interview and I do understand where you're coming from,” Davidson said. “You were a product of your environment, you were a product of your culture."
Davidson said the country has made some progress over the past 65 years – but not enough.
"I'm not comfortable where we are in America,” she said. “We need to heal. We're not where we should have been after all those years."
Smith agrees but adds the confrontation captured in the unearthed photo is part of history.
“It seems like a long time ago to me,” he said.