Willie Galimore's work off the field and legacy with Chicago Bears
During the offseason, Galimore returned to St. Augustine, Florida to help in Civil Rights demonstrations. Notably, Galimore became the first non-White visitor of the previously segregated Ponce de Leon Motor Lodge.
This was in response to a nationally covered incident from a few weeks prior, in which the mother of the governor of Massachusetts, a 72-year-old woman, was arrested at the Motor Lodge for having lunch with Black friends. Mary Peabody, the arrested individual, was one of several Civil Rights activists to be arrested or harmed at the location, and with such an injustice happening in his hometown, Galimore saw it as an opportunity to continue his crucial off-the-field work as a warrior for social justice.
His visit to St. Augustine, outside of his work as a Civil Rights activist, ended up being an unfortunate moment of serendipity, as just weeks later, Galimore would, unfortunately, pass away in a one-car accident just outside of the Chicago Bears training camp.
Galimore and teammate John Farrington were in the car when it reportedly lost control and went off-road, tragically throwing both players from the car. His Civil Rights work over the offseason marked one of the few times that Galimore was able to return home during his professional career, giving him one more moment to see family and his hometown prior to his unexpected death, although his return was obviously under undesirable conditions.
Following his untimely and tragic death, Galimore was recognized by a number of teams and organizations for his tremendous work on and off the field. His numbered 28 jersey was promptly retired by the franchise, and in the years following, the St. Augustine native was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and the Black College Football Hall of Fame, two incredible honors for one of the best HBCU players in the sport's history. He was recently recognized as the 60th-best player in franchise history, sandwiched between stars like Khalil Mack and Robbie Gould.
Galimore contributed a lot to the late-50s/early-60s Chicago Bears squads despite having established veterans ahead of him in the depth chart for most of his pro career. The back led the team in rushing only once as a Bear but was an integral part of a dynamic offense that only added talent throughout his stay, cumulating in the team's 1963 NFL Championship win.
However, despite his incredible on-field talent, Galimore will perhaps be remembered more for his impact on his northeastern-Florida community, especially as a Civil Rights activist, something that his successor, Gale Sayers, and he would have in common. It is fitting that after his tragic passing, the Chicago Bears decided that no other player would be fit to don the number 28.