April 21 – Happy Birthday Harrison Wilson Jr.


Harrison Wilson Jr.

My grandson Bradley started at quarterback for his Pop Warner football team in Fayetteville, NY and this coming fall, he will be trying out for his middle school’s modified football team. I asked Bradley to do me a favor some day. I asked him to make me the second Amsterdam native in history to have a grandson who was a winning quarterback in an NFL Super Bowl. You don’t think I’m putting too much pressure on the kid, do you?

In any event, the first Amsterdam-born grandfather of a Super-Bowl winning QB celebrates a birthday today. Here’s the background.

Russell Wilson quarterbacked the Seattle Seahawks to a 43-8 rout of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014. Russell Wilson is the great grandson of Harrison Wilson Sr. Harrison Sr. was the son of a slave. He moved to Amsterdam in the early 1900s and got a job working for a local builder named Thomas McGibbon. On April 21, 1925, Harrison’s wife Marguerite gave birth to Russell Wilson’s grandfather, who they named Harrison Wilson Jr. Harrison Jr. would grow up to become an outstanding student athlete at Wilbur Lynch High School. He starred on both the school’s football and basketball teams.

In January of 1943, as Harrison Jr.’s varsity basketball team was winning its way to a Class A Sectional title, a huge late afternoon fire engulfed a downtown Amsterdam building which was owned by McGibbon and housed the Empire Market on the first floor and a bowling alley on the second. When the roof of the building collapsed, two girl pinsetters working in the alley at the time, were trapped. Harrison Wilson Sr. with help from an unidentified second person rushed onto the scene and helped free them both. A grateful McGibbon would later respond to his long-time employee’s heroism by letting Wilson operate and keep all the revenues generated from a rather small parking lot the builder also owned in downtown Amsterdam.

After graduating from High School, Harrison Jr. enlisted in the Navy and served till the end of WWII. He then went to Kentucky State on the GI Bill, lettered in four varsity sports and graduated with a teaching degree. He later earned his doctorate from Indiana University. He would then become the highly successful basketball coach at Mississippi’s Jackson State, compiling a stellar 340-72 record during his 16-year career. He became President of Norfolk University in 1975.

In the mid 1990’s, the Amsterdam High School Marching Band was invited to play in the State of Virginia’s International Music Festival, which is still held annually in Norfolk. When Wilson heard his alma mater’s marching band was coming to town, he sprang into action. Norfolk State University has one of the great marching band programs in this country. Wilson arranged to have his school’s band do a clinic for the Marching Rams, providing the young musicians with valuable tips they could use when performing. Afterwards, Wilson had the college’s culinary staff prepare a full dinner for all of the Amsterdam students, their teachers and chaperones. One parent who made the trip told me that Wilson treated the band like royalty, commenting that there were even linen table cloths on the dining hall tables when the band sat down to its full-course meal. Wilson regaled the group with his fond memories of Amsterdam. It was evident to all who attended that day, how fond he was of his hometown. Wilson retired from Norfolk State 1997.

Just recently, Russell Wilson signed a new $141 million contract to continue  quarterbacking the Seattle Seahawks. I’m going out on the limb here and calling that deal the largest contract ever signed by a grandson of a native of Amsterdam, NY. Wait till I tell my grandson!


2 thoughts on “April 21 – Happy Birthday Harrison Wilson Jr.

  1. Do you know what years the Wilson parking lot operated. When I read it, it sounded vaguely familiar. Great story. Once again, fantastic reporting.


  2. I know he was there around 1960. I remember parking in that lot. The charge was 25 cents. Mr Wilson was always a gentleman.


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