Baton Rouge, La. Eddie Robinson was earning 25 cents an hour at a feed mill when he heard about a coaching vacancy at a small black college in the piney hills of northern Louisiana.
That was more than six decades ago. It was a time when Robinson and fellow blacks lived in segregation, forbidden to patronize restaurants that catered exclusively to whites or to sit anywhere on a public bus but in the back.
On Monday, the grounds of the Louisiana Capitol will be reserved for all who wish to pay their respects to Grambling State's legendary football coach.
When Robinson died last week at of 88, state officials immediately made plans for him to lie in state, an honor more often bestowed on political leaders such as Huey Long, the former governor and U.S. senator whose days in power coincided with Robinson's youth.
All former Grambling players have been invited to a players-only service at the Capitol on Monday and then to carry Robinson's casket to Memorial Hall for public viewing. Robinson's body will be brought to Grambling for a wake Tuesday evening and burial Wednesday.
W.C. Gordon, a former Jackson State coach and Southwestern Athletic Conference rival, called Robinson the "Martin Luther King of football."
"I don't think you can describe him any better than that," said former Grambling and NFL quarterback Doug Williams, who has been invited to speak during a memorial service in the state House of Representatives chambers.
"There were so many young black men, in a time when segregation was strong, that coach steered in the right direction so they could go out in America and make way for their family," Williams added. "He preached being able to thrive in America - to go out and be whatever to be what you want to be."
Gordon remembered Robinson as a gentleman who never uttered a derogatory word about an opponent.
"He carried the attitude that he loved everybody."
By the time Robinson retired in 1997, with 57 years of coaching and 408 victories to his name, it seemed everybody loved him as well.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco called Robinson a "true American hero ... and one of the greatest civil rights pioneers in our history."