An integral piece of Hoosier history

Destination Mind Games

May 16, 2006|By RUTH SADLER | RUTH SADLER,SUN REPORTER

Getting Open

Tom Graham and Rachel Graham Cody

Atria Books/255 pages

The recent movie Glory Road was based on Texas Western's 1966 NCAA championship team, the first with five black starters. In the 1963 final, eventual champion Loyola of Chicago started four African-Americans and Cincinnati started three.

Yet, 20 years before Texas Western, there were no black basketball players in the Big Ten. There were black football players, but a "gentleman's agreement" kept black players off the court.

Tom Graham and Rachel Graham Cody, in Getting Open, tell how that gentleman's agreement was broken and Bill Garrett became Indiana University's - and the Big Ten's - first black player.

Garrett was the star of the 1947 Indiana state tournament, the second black player elected Mr. Basketball. But, a year after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, it took delicate negotiations to get Garrett to Bloomington - as a walk-on, even though Indiana University basketball was in the doldrums.

Tom Graham grew up in Garrett's hometown and was 4 when Shelbyville, with three black starters, won the state championship. He grew up playing basketball, pretending to be Garrett. He, too, played for Shelbyville and experienced, from the other side, the racial divide of that town. Black and white came together in high school (elementary school was segregated), but black students were barred from the teen rec center, could only swim in the public pool on the day it was to get its weekly cleaning and could attend the movie house seated only in the balcony. Graham says this was accepted (at least publicly) at the time. But it gnawed at him, as did the desire to know and tell Bill Garrett's story. He quotes Don Wallis, writing about another Indiana town: "It was so wrong, we had to keep it a secret from ourselves."

This meticulously researched book sets the basketball in its context, a world likely to be alien to many readers: an Indiana with the Klan and segregation; the postwar IU, with its influx of veterans and very separate life of black students; but a world that black veterans and Jackie Robinson were changing.

However, as skillfully as this background is woven, there are two small fumbles. The authors do not mention the black players who followed Garrett in the Big Ten until they discuss Garrett's life in 1957. They also tell what happened after 1947 to key people in Garrett's life - his Shelbyville teammates, the men who negotiated his IU enrollment - but are mum on his closest IU freshman teammates, the ones who accepted him totally on Day One and played with him for four years.

ruth.sadler@baltsun.com

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