Ricky Hammonds, the first black student to play football for Newton High School and the first black student to attend Oxford College, passed away on Dec. 14.
Remembered by family and friends as an honest hard-working and reliable individual, John Robert "Ricky" Hammonds Jr. died at the age of 57 from cancer. Hammonds' funeral Monday afternoon at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Covington was a crowded affair with standing room only.
"Ricky to me is probably the most honorable man I've ever met," said childhood friend Chester Benton. "Ricky had the conscience. We respected him. You always felt that wherever you were if Ricky was there, you was OK."
Born in 1950 in Cleveland, Ohio, to John R. Hammonds Sr. and the late Bernice Johnson Hammonds, Ricky was raised in Covington by his father, stepmother Mary Hammonds and his late paternal grandparents. Ricky joined Bethlehem Baptist Church at an early age, singing in the church choir. He would later go on to serve as superintendent of the church's Sunday School.
Educated first at Washington Street Elementary School and then R.L. Cousins High School, Ricky was one of the first black students to attend Newton High School where he graduated from in 1968.
Ricky's younger brother Raymond, who was also one of the first black students to integrate the high school, recalled that in their first year attending NHS, they were not allowed to participate in any extracurricular activities.
However, after that restriction was lifted the next year, Ricky went on to play defensive end for the Newton Rams while Raymond joined the school band.
"We'd be the only two black faces in the stadium," Raymond said. "It was an experience."
After graduating high school Ricky went on to attend Oxford College of Emory University on an academic scholarship. According to Raymond, Ricky was not confronted with too many problems as the first black student to attend Oxford.
"Most of the days were OK as far as I know," Raymond said. "He handled everything in a quiet type way. He seemed to be the type of person that never really let anything bother him. He just looked beyond them and kept going. He wasn't the type of person to give up."
After graduating from Oxford, Rickey went on to Georgia State where he majored in accounting. He was employed by Mobil Chemical Company for 27 years and then by Buckhead Bulldog Movers as operations manager until the time of his death.
Diagnosed six months ago with cancer, Raymond said his brother didn't let the disease keep him from his work.
"The doctors told him he only had six months to go," Raymond said. "But he didn't allow that to stop him. He worked up until one and a half weeks before his death."
At his funeral Monday, friends recalled his dedication to his work as well as his participation in a high school band called The Soul Sensations.
Childhood friend Deacon Winston Kelly said that in addition to playing trumpet for the band, Ricky was also the group's manager and in charge of booking all of their performances.
"He was an honest person. He was an accurate person," Kelly said. "He believed in details and doing things right."
After the funeral Ricky was interred at Oxford Historical Cemetery.
Funeral arrangements were handled by Young Funeral Home Inc.
Ricky Hammond is survived by his wife Vicki Holbrooks; daughter Vernisha Latonia Hammonds; son Dylan Sears; father and stepmother John Hammonds Sr. and Mary Hammonds; brother and sister-in-law Raymond and Nadene Hammonds; sisters and brother-in-law Yolande Copeland, Michelle Hammonds, Monica and Archie Williams and Nolita Salter and a large number of family and friends.