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Jim Marshall: Grandson of a Freed Slave

Posted Feb 20, 2016

Jim Marshall learned multiple things from his grandfather, an Ethiopian who spent part of his life enslaved.

One lesson was the appreciation for opportunities and the understanding of how important it is to make the most of them. The original Vikings iron man also appreciates February’s designation as Black History Month as a celebration of perseverance and achievement.

“It’s very significant in my life. My grandfather was an ex-slave. When he was freed, he settled in an area in Kentucky,” Marshall said. “There was quite a bit of history that I learned coming up from my grandfather. He was Ethiopian, and it was significant. He was a proud man, and it was very significant that he was freed and able to make his own life.

“He made a very nice farm that supplied food for the family and food he could sell to make money. He even started raising tobacco to be sold commercially,” Marshall added. “Of course, with many of the people who were in that situation, he was a moonshiner. His corn went to moonshine, so that supplied money for the family to survive.”

Marshall, who was born in 1937 as the Great Depression was winding down, has experienced considerable change within his lifetime that can be traced to the ending of slavery in this country. He was mistreated by others during his youth, but became a decorated player at Ohio State and followed with 282 NFL games. Marshall played the 1960 season in Cleveland before helping launch a partially integrated Vikings team in 1961. He retired after the 1979 season and is largely credited for his leadership through changing times and a level of play that earned him placement in the Vikings Ring of Honor.