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1958 Basketball Article

-19558 Basketball Team

On December 6, 1958, the University of Wisconsin basketball team traveled to Houston, Texas to play Rice University. When they arrived in the Lone Star State, the Badger traveling squad was denied the opportunity to stay as a team at any local hotels. UW's two African-American players, Jim Biggs and Ivan Jefferson, were denied access to the same accommodations as their teammates, and the two black athletes were forced to stay at Texas Southern, a local black college.

Later that week, Wisconsin played at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where the entire team lodged together. Nevertheless, when the team returned to Madison, word of the Badgers' Jim Crow treatment in Houston spread quickly around campus.

Like it had in 1956 when faced with a segregated football game against Louisiana State University, the UW community sprung into action against the racial slight. The Daily Cardinal published a blistering editorial condemning the University's complicity in the continuance of Jim Crow. "We feel that the Athletic Department must immediately end all athletic associations with Southern schools," the student newspaper demanded. "We feel it is only necessary to say that the University is unknowingly providing impetus for racial bigotry by sending its athletic teams to play Southern schools."

The Cardinal decried the "sad situation" in the South and closed its editorial, saying that "it would befit a great university such as our own to declare unequivocally that it will not compete in the South under present conditions."

The University of Wisconsin Student Senate followed the newspaper's lead in condemning the events in Houston. The group declared that the incident in Houston was "inconsistent... and contrary to the basic principles of the University," and they recommended that the Athletic Department refuse to play games in cities with Jim Crow customs.

Two weeks after the game at Rice, the UW Athletic Board met and made a strong statement against racial discrimination. The Board agreed that Jim Crow was not acceptable to the University, and, adopting the recommendations of the Student Senate, it proclaimed a sweeping new policy forbidding Wisconsin to accept segregated accommodations. The athletic administrators declared that, in the future, all UW teams must be allowed "to travel together, lodge and dine together, and play together as a team without discrimination... from local or state laws, customs or practices." [For the full text of the Athletic Department's Resolution click here]

Unequivocal anti-segregation policies, like the one adopted by the University of Wisconsin, focused attention on recalcitrant Southern segregationists. Highlighting the inequities of lingering Jim Crow customs around the country helped to galvanize public opinion and public pressure in opposition to the color line.

With the Athletic Department's new policy in effect, the Badger basketball team did not return to the South until 1963 when UW played at Kentucky and Georgia Tech. The Wisconsin football team did not play in the Old Confederacy until a 1972 match-up at Louisiana State University.

Gregory Bond, Ph.D.
History, University of Wisconsin

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