Full Court PressMississippi State University, the Press, and the Battle to Integrate College Basketball

Full Court PressMississippi State University, the Press, and the Battle to Integrate College Basketball

Jason A. Peterson

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9781496808202

Publisher: University Press of Mississippi

Abstract

During the civil rights era, Mississippi was cloaked in the hateful embrace of the Closed Society, historian James Silver’s description of the white caste system that enforced segregation and promoted the subservient treatment of blacks. Surprisingly, challenges from Mississippi’s college basketball courts brought into question the validity of the Closed Society and its unwritten law, a gentleman’s agreement that prevented college teams in the Magnolia State from playing against integrated foes. Mississippi State University was at the forefront of the battle for equality in the state with the school’s successful college basketball program. From 1959 through 1963, the Maroons won four Southeastern Conference basketball championships and created a championship dynasty in the South’s preeminent college athletic conference. However, in all four title-winning seasons, the press feverishly debated the merits of an NCAA appearance for the Maroons, culminating in Mississippi State University’s participation in the integrated 1963 National Collegiate Athletic Association’s National Championship basketball tournament. Full Court Press examines news articles, editorials, and columns published in Mississippi’s newspapers during the eight-year existence of the gentleman’s agreement, the challenges posed by Mississippi State University, and the subsequent integration of college basketball within the state. While the majority of reporters opposed any effort to integrate athletics, a segment of sports journalists, led by the charismatic Jimmie McDowell of the Jackson State Times, emerged as bold and progressive advocates for equality. Full Court Press highlights an ideological metamorphosis within the press during the Civil Rights Movement, slowly transforming from an organ that minimized the rights of blacks to an industry that weighted the plight of blacks on equal footing with their white brethren.