Earl A. Lee, a retired Baltimore public school principal who had been a member of the 1960s protest group the "Black 14," died Monday of heart disease at Northwest Hospital.
The Owings Mills resident was 66.
"We met years ago when I was an academic officer and he was principal of Calverton Middle School," said James M. Smith, a former Baltimore principal who was an assistant superintendent at his retirement.
"Earl was a no-nonsense administrator, and the students loved him. He was a very intelligent and giving man, and was a mentor to the many teachers who came through the system," said Mr. Smith.
"He was also very personable and outgoing and had a hefty laugh, which the kids loved," said Mr. Smith. "Earl was genuine and real."
The son of a steelworker and a homemaker, Earl Alonzo Lee was born and raised in Chattanooga, Tenn., where he graduated in 1967 from Howard High School and had been an outstanding football player.
Mr. Lee's football prowess earned him a scholarship to the University of Wyoming, where he participated in the "Black 14" protest in 1969 that shocked the university and the state.
The football players had demanded that they be allowed to wear black armbands in a game against Brigham Young University to protest the policies of the Mormon church at the time that prohibited blacks from being ordained in the faith's lay priesthood.
The day before the game, Oct. 17, 1969, Lloyd Eaton, the Wyoming football coach, kicked the 14 African-American players off the team — including Mr. Lee, who was a guard — when they threatened to wear the black armbands.
Word had reached Laramie that 2,000 armed Black Panthers were ready to march on the town, and the game went on as scheduled — minus the 14 African-American players — while the Wyoming National Guard and the Wyoming State Police stood by in case of trouble.
The players filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court after the university refused to reinstate them. Judge Ewing T. Kerr later dismissed the case in a decision that was upheld on appeal.
In 1971, the Mormon church began allowing black men to be ordained as priests. Mr. Lee never regretted his stand that day, said his son, Brian Lee, who lives in Harrisburg, Pa.
"He felt things were not equal or right," said Mr. Lee. "So it was his obligation to make a stand for equality."
The incident later became the subject of a book, "Black 14: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Wyoming Football," by Ryan Thornburn.
After briefly serving in the Army, Mr. Lee earned a dual bachelor's degree in 1971 in biology and physical education from the University of Wyoming.
Mr. Lee began his teaching career in 1971 at Lake Clifton High School, where he taught science and also coached the football, track and wrestling teams.
He earned a master's degree in 1976 in educational administration and supervision from Morgan State University. A decade later, he was promoted to assistant principal at Lake Clifton.
"I would definitely say he was quite professional," said Shirley T. Hills, assistant principal at Lake Clifton when Mr. Lee arrived in 1971.
"He was a strict disciplinarian but well-liked by the students in spite of being a disciplinarian. He was also well-liked by the staff," said Mrs. Hills. "He was a very personable person and a great supporter of the school's athletic teams. He was always out there with the coaches, urging them on."
Mrs. Hills, who retired in 1997 from the city's public schools as an assistant to an area supervisor, said Mr. Lee was a "great supporter of young people and did all he could to help them succeed."
"He was an excellent science teacher," said Lawrence Johns, who retired in 2000 as principal of Diggs-Johnson Middle School. "Earl was a fantastic friend and a person you could always depend on."
After leaving Lake Clifton, Mr. Lee was principal of Calverton Middle School. From1990 to 1993, he served as principal of Southwestern High School.
For the last seven years of his career before retiring in 2000, he was principal of Francis M. Wood Alternative High School.
Mr. Lee fell in love with a fellow Lake Clifton educator, the former Delphine M. Stanley, whom he married in 1973. She later served as principal at Dunbar and Edmondson high schools before retiring some years ago.
The longtime Pikesville resident, who moved to Owings Mills in 2000, enjoyed playing golf, fishing and attending Ravens games.
Mr. Lee was known as "Uncle Lee."
"Many relied on his advice and wisdom for guidance in various stages of their lives," his son said. "He had an uncanny ability to make those around him laugh, which was another favorite pastime of his."
Services will be held at noon Saturday at Epworth United Methodist Church, 3317 St. Luke's Lane, Woodlawn.
In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Lee is survived by a brother, Marvin Lee of Chattanooga; a sister, Martha Fletcher of Atlanta; two grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.