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Buttons Speakes Obituary; ODU Basketball Player Passed Away Wednesday In Atlanta.

Sonny Allen understood that he would need to be resilient enough to endure racist and frequently derogatory chanting from rival fans when he signed the first African-American to an athletic scholarship at a primarily white university in Virginia.

While serving as Marshall’s assistant basketball coach, Allen got to know Arthur “Buttons” Speakes on the playgrounds in Huntington, West Virginia, and he became his guy.

Allen signed Speakes shortly after taking over as Old Dominion’s head basketball coach. Speakes participated on the freshmen team in 1965–1966 and the varsity squad the next three years.

Speakes set the example for other Black athletes by enduring the taunts, insults, and jeers with dignity and humility. Paul Webb, the former basketball coach at ODU, referred to him as “ODU’s Jackie Robinson.”
The man who went by that name, Speakes, died away early on Wednesday in his suburban Atlanta home, according to his wife of twelve years, Jeanne Speakes.

The 76-year-old Speakes was praised for being a modest man who avoided the spotlight.
“He preferred to remain solitary and blend into the background as much as possible,” stated Webb, the Randolph-Macon coach at the time Speakes played at ODU.

“I knew very nothing about Buttons. However, I’m sure that what he endured was challenging”. While breaking the color barrier in baseball, Jackie Robinson endured similar hardships while traveling.
ODU’s director of athletics, Dr. Wood Selig, claimed that the school broke down boundaries related to gender and race. A few years after Speakes received her degree from ODU, the university gave female athletes the first scholarships in Virginia.

“I can’t imagine what he had to endure, what he went through and the tenacity and perseverance that he exhibited while representing ODU,” Selig said.

“I think the world of Buttons Speakes. I had the chance to meet him and he’s one of the nicest and kindest human beings I’ve ever met. He will leave a lasting impact on ODU athletics.”

Billy Allen, the son of the late Sonny Allen, said Buttons Speakes was his babysitter during their time in Norfolk and that they became close over the years.

According to Jeanne Speakes, her husband has been ill since May, when he underwent triple bypass surgery, and he has been receiving kidney dialysis as of late. He asked to go home after a protracted hospital stay, and she gave him a ride on Monday.

“He’s been sick for a long time and suffered so much,” she said. “When he came home, he had the best day. He was lucid and spent time with his dog. He was just very happy.”

She stated that he died peacefully in his sleep on Wednesday morning.
According to Jeanne Speaks, friends of her husband from ODU, Mike Terry, an attorney in Nashville, and businessman Jim Bush from Virginia Beach, among others, “really helped us in recent months.”