The Game That Ended Segregated Hoops

Here's how March Madness 1963 changed everything for race and basketball.

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Mississippi State's Stan Brinker (53) and Loyola's Jerry Harkness (15)
(Loyola University Chicago)

On Friday, NPR's Morning Edition tells the story of the 1963 NCAA matchup between Loyola University of Chicago and Mississippi State that helped put an end to segregated basketball and became known as the "game of change." 

It all began with a Ramblers starting lineup that featured four black players. At the time, that was a lot (try to get your head around that) -- and when they won in the opening round, segregationist sports fans were none too happy about it:

During the opening round of the NCAA tournament, the Ramblers blew past their opponent. The next showdown would be with the Mississippi State Maroons, now known as the Bulldogs. Loyola captain Jerry Harkness, an African-American, says that's when the hate mail started pouring in.

"And that's ... a little bit scary because they know where you are, and they are sending you mail, and it said ... 'Stop right here,' and, 'You better not play against any more white teams in the tournament,' " Harkness says.

The black community was sending a different message: You can't lose.

"The majority of people that called said, 'Please win. This is a great opportunity for the black race,' " Harkness says.

The Mississippi State Maroons had won their Southeastern Conference title year after year, but Bobby Shows -- the center on the 1963 team -- said there was resistance to playing in the NCAA tournament.

"It was a unwritten law in Mississippi that no college basketball team from Mississippi would ever play against blacks," Shows says.

The school's president, Dean Colvard, had accepted the NCAA tournament bid knowing that he could lose his job. Then-Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett, an avowed segregationist, and his allies tried to stop the Maroons from leaving the state ...

Read more and listen at NPR.

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