A decorated Army Colonel, Paul Bates '31 spent his military career leading by example. Colonel Bates became known worldwide as the white colonel who commanded the first black tank battalion to enter combat in World War II. In November 1944, his 761st Tank Battalion entered combat for 183 consecutive days without relief.
Paul Bates came to the college as an Economics major and spent his time out of the classroom on the gridiron. He hailed from California and was a dedicated student in the Reserve Officer Training Corps.
The core values on which McDaniel was founded (respecting others and sharing the responsibility for the common good) took root into Bates' daily work ethic and essentially served as the foundation for his professional career. Knowing with strong conviction that not one race is superior to any other, he held everyone he led to the same standards and treated them as equals and this included the 761st Tank Battalion - the Black Panthers.
Colonel Bates believed in his men and fought for them to enter the World War II theater in November of 1944. The Black Panthers clashed for 183 consecutive days, capturing, destroying or liberating more than 30 major towns, 34 tanks and four airfields.
Before they left for Europe, Bates declined to court-martial one of his own soldiers, Jackie Robinson, who refused to move to the back of a bus. Yes, it was the very same Jackie Robinson who went on to integrate major league baseball.
Steadfast in his belief that the Black Panthers would prevail in combat, Bates refused a promotion to full colonel because it would have separated him from the 761st. Of the 687 enlisted men and 41 officers in the 761st, he became the first of 276 to be wounded.
Bates retired from the Army in 1963 after having been awarded the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart. After many years of lobbying for national recognition for their efforts, President Jimmy Carter gave the Black Panthers a Presidential citation for “extraordinary heroism in action.”
Colonel Paul Bates died in 1995 at the age of 86.
In 2007, McDaniel posthumously honored Colonel Bates with the Trustee Alumni Award. Baron Bates received the award on behalf of his father and stated that his father wanted nothing but the best for the Black Panthers. During that very same ceremony, NBA basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was awarded an honorary degree in Human Letters. Jabbar authored Brothers in Arms and dedicated the book to Colonel Paul Bates. Jabbar's interest in the 761st piqued after his dad's friend informed him of how much incorrect information about the 761st was in a documentary he had screened. It was the Army's intent to never send the 761st to combat, because the battalion was created to secure support from African Americans during the war. Through his research, Jabbar was amazed at the persistence of Bates who worked to have his Battalion fight. Joan Coley, the College's eighth President, stated, “Jabbar was most impressed with McDaniel College for producing a leader like Paul Bates who cared so much about his soldiers and for the cause of social justice."
To this very day, Colonel Bates' legacy of fighting for social justice is memorialized through the Paul L. Bates Memorial Scholarship Fund. Established in 1999 for lineal descendants of the battalion members who served the unit from August 1944 through April 1945, the fund is administered and maintained by the Board of Trustees. Additionally, each spring at McDaniel's annual Senior Investiture and Honors Convocation the Bates Prize is awarded for the most outstanding male graduating senior.