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Robert Pickens

Robert James Pickens was born on February 2, 1943 to Sarah Wilson and Nathanial Pickens in Chicago, Illinois and grew up in Evanston, Illinois. After graduating from Evanston Township High School in 1962, Pickens was the first African American to represent America in wrestling in the 1964 Olympics. He placed sixth in the Greco-Roman division.

Continuing his career in sports, Pickens played football as an offensive tackle for the Chicago Bears from 1967 to 1969. He earned a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1969 and then spent a year playing for the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League while working as the Assistant Personnel Director for Foote, Cone and Belding-an advertising agency. In 1970, he began an 18-year career with Sears, Roebuck and Company in which he was eventually promoted to toy department buyer.

In 1988, Pickens left Sears to become the owner and managing director of Rainbow Classics, Inc., a Hong Kong-based trading company dealing in toys and sundry items. In 1991, Pickens became the president and owner of Merrill Associates, Ltd. and the construction coordinator for DJP Development and Consulting, a family-owned business. In addition to his professional duties, Pickens began serving as a Chicago Park District commissioner in 2000.

Pickens never left sports behind: he served as an official for the Big 10 Football Conference between 1976 and 1989, and co-founded a mentoring group of retired professional athletes called Team Up, Inc. in 1985. He held the position of national steering committee president of the National Football League Players Association and president of the National Football League Retired Players Association's Chicago Chapter and worked with youth through the Better Boys Foundation and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Pickens had two adult children, and married Judith Jamison in 2002.

Pickens passed away on April 12, 2018 at age 75.

Accession Number

A2002.089

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/24/2002

Last Name

Pickens

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Schools

Evanston Township High School

Foster Elementary School

Haven Junior High School

University of Wisconsin-Madison

University of Nebraska-Omaha

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Robert

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

PIC01

Favorite Season

Winter

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

For Someone To Make You Feel Inferior, It Means That You Have Given Them The Liberty To Do That.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

2/2/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Rice

Death Date

4/12/2018

Short Description

Football player and wrestler Robert Pickens (1943 - 2018 ) was an Olympic athlete who went on to become Cook County, Illinois Commissioner.

Employment

Chicago Bears

Foote, Cone and Belding

Sears Roebuck & Company

Rainbow Classics

Merrill Associates

DJP Development and Consulting

Big 10 Conference

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Robert Pickens' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Robert Pickens lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Robert Pickens describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Robert Pickens describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Robert Pickens describes the sights, sounds, and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Robert Pickens describes his experience of his childhood home in Evanston, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Robert Pickens talks about his memorable school experiences at Evanston Township High School

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Robert Pickens describes his third grade teacher

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Robert Pickens describes his experience at Evanston Township High School

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Robert Pickens describes becoming interested in classical music at Evanston Township High School

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Robert Pickens describes his social life at Evanston Township High School

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Robert Pickens remembers his graduation day from Haven Junior High School

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Robert Pickens talks about his experience at University of Wisconsin-Madison

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Robert Pickens discusses his athletic experiences at University of Wisconsin in Madison

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Robert Pickens describes his experience in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Robert Pickens describes his experience in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Robert Pickens talks about some of his teammates from the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Robert Pickens describes his experience at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Robert Pickens describes his experience playing football for the University of Nebraska

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Robert Pickens recalls marrying his first wife, Doris Pickens

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Robert Pickens talks about his move from pro football to industry working at Sears, Roebuck and Company

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Robert Pickens reflects upon his marriages to Doris Pickens and Judith Jamison

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Robert Pickens describes Doris Pickens' community involvement

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Robert Pickens describes his experience working at Foote, Cone and Belding and Sears, Roebuck, and Company

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Robert Pickens describes his experience at Sears, Roebuck and Company

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Robert Pickens describes his business in China with Rainbow Classics

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Robert Pickens talks about the importance of black dolls

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Robert Pickens talks about his business interests

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Robert Pickens describes his work as a Chicago Parks Commissioner

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Robert Pickens talks about his goals for the Parks District in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Robert Pickens talks about the National Football League Retired Players Association

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Robert Pickens talks about his work with the Better Boys Foundation

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Robert Pickens describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Robert Pickens reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Robert Pickens talks about his family

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Robert Pickens reflects upon the importance of studying African American history

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$2

DAStory

3$7

DATitle
Robert Pickens describes his experience in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, pt. 1
Robert Pickens describes his experience playing football for the University of Nebraska
Transcript
Yeah, but you go to [University of] Nebraska [Lincoln, Nebraska] with kind of a different kind of attitude, you had just go to the Olympics.$$Yes.$$Now, let's talk about the Olympics.$$Oh, the Olympics were unbelievable, that was the wildest, wildest. Everybody in Chicago knows [HM] Willye White. I knew Willye White, she was the lead person, a wonderful lady, and carried herself with dignity. Willie Davenport, unfortunately just passed away, he was on the Olympic Team with me. Bob Hayes was on the Olympic team with me.$$Bob Hayes was the world's fastest (simultaneous)$$World's fastest human being. George Wilson, from [John] Marshall [Metropolitan] High School, Bill Bradley. Buster Mathis, who beat Joe Frazier. Naw, Joe Frazier was on the Olympic team with me. He beat Buster, Buster Mathis broke his hand. I think Buster beat Joe in the trials. But because he broke his hand, Joe Frazier was the heavyweight of choice. It was a cadre of guys, you know, some icons, some sports icons on that team. Donna De Varona, I remember her. Mark Spence, yeah he was, wait, I'm trying to remember. But, also, in also all those great experiences, another story I never really told very much. The wrestling team, I got six in the world, which is the highest an American had ever attained in Greco-Roman Wrestling as a heavyweight, period, that was the highest an American had ever achieved. So, were going through everything, and you know we were scheduled to leave after the closing ceremonies. We got a note says the wrestling team was going to leave early. Well, we didn't win any medals, we, you know, six places a plaque. I said it was a great plaque. So, we get on the plane and you know we're flying back and we stopped in some place to refuel. We land, we're coming into L. A. [Los Angeles, California] And as the guy touches down he says, "I have an announcement." I said "Oh." He said: "When we pull up to the gate, would all the gold medal winners get off on the front and the remaining athletes exit from the rear?" I said "Welcome to America." But, again, I said:" Okay." So I collected my bags, got off, collected my bags went back to Chicago [Illinois]. Again, went through the Dr. [Lloyd S.] Michael experience, so I had two real interesting experiences over a short period of time. The wrestling experience also was interesting because six years later I was playing football in Canada and they had the World Games. And a buddy of mine, named Dave Albo, knew I was in Canada say: "Come on Pick, let's go over to the games, and watch some wrestling." So, I went over and when I walked in, the Russians and the Bulgarians stood up and applauded, and came over to me and hugged me and said: "Oh, Pickens, where you been?" "How are you?" That was an absolute memorable occasion. It was about 4:00 o' clock in the afternoon. And to be recognized by world class athletes as you approach the venue or enter the venue, is immeasurable. So, that's put away in the little computer too, you know.$Now, what was the [football] team like when you played for Nebraska?$$We, we had a championship team. We lost two games, one was Oklahoma [University] and the other was to [University of] Alabama, [1966], [1967]. Sugar, was it Sugar, yeah, Sugar Bowl. I remember that vividly, too. We had, we'd kicked off to Alabama and they were like on the 35 yard line, going out, the quarterback was Kenny "Snake" Stabler, the receiver was Ray Perkins. Before we went to the game, the defensive coach, Jim Ross told our linebacker, he says: "The first play from scrimmage, will be a deep fast, go to Ray Perkins." So, myself and Harry Wilson, a half back, and being Ray, was sitting on the sidelines. He'd stand up for the first play, but see Snake Stabler, and who rivals out -"wham" Ray Perkins zoomed, I turned around to Harry, I said: "Harry, we're in for a long day (laughter). They beat us like 34 to 13, 14. It was interesting, (laughter), it really was. I've had all sorts of goofy experiences. I've been away at games and hotels and some of our, our visiting fans would see me at the door and asked me to take the bags. They thought I was a doorman. I'd look at them and says: "No, I'm one of the players on the team. And, they'd get embarrassed and turn red and all this. I mean I got my marks when I responded in a polite way, but a very, very deliberate way. When we were in New Orleans [Louisiana], it was interesting because during the, prior to the game, everybody at the hotels was extremely friendly. At the end of the game, when it's over, they got to be snappy and somewhat racist in their approach to us, as African Americans, you know, in their facility. But again, that's life, that's the way it is, you know. You kind of make those adjustments. So, if you fall in, you fall to that stuff, then you're operating on someone else's plan, and not yours. So, all those little juicy experiences have been kind of helpful with me to keep a more of ecumenical attitude toward life. Today, I operate on a basis of I have a plate that's only so big and in order for you to get on my plate, I have to invite you. If I get too many people on the plate and I can't have some impact upon what's going on, I reduce it to a saucer. So, somebody has to go. And I think all the little experiences in my life have taught me to put things in perspective. I think God has graced me with skills and talents. I take them very humbly, I don't take them as anything that I pushed down people's throat. Remember, I told you early, if you don't ask me, I ain't gonna tell you, that's the way I treat my personal life, my business life, my sports experiences, my political involvements. I'm just another guy walking the streets here to help and do what has to be done. So, all those little situations have kind of like taught me to be ecumenical in thought and humane, humane with humility as you go forward. But the Olympics was good; college was good; parents [Sarah Stampley and Robert Wilson] was very proud of me; was able to do some things. As I went, oh, one other experience, in Nebraska. They had a National AU Wrestling Tournament in Lincoln, Nebraska. So, it was during the spring football. Well, I went to spring football practice, changed clothes, went to the stadium and wrestled in the National AU Olympics, I got third, forgive me (unclear), so, my day was classroom, football practice, AU. People didn't believe it, they didn't understand how you could do that? And again, (simultaneous)$$What?$$Oh yeah. But it was a lot of fun. You know, you stretched. I was in my world, you know the sports world, which is, and that, that was a good experience. I'd say after the Olympics had taken place.