A distressing account of the challenges faced by the first black basketball players in two of the South’s most prominent collegiate athletic conferences.
Occasional game highlights aside, Jacobs (Coach K’s Little Blue Book: Fire, Fact, and Insight from College Basketball's Best Coach, 2000, etc.) provides more of a pellucid explication of southern integration than a thrilling basketball chronicle. Beginning with Billy Jones and Pete Johnson at the University of Maryland in 1964 and concluding with Larry Fry and Jerry Jenkins at Mississippi State University in 1971, the author details the difficulties faced by pioneering black athletes at each school in both the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences. For some, such as Coolidge Ball at the University of Mississippi and Larry Robinson at the University of Tennessee, the experience was largely devoid of the overt racism faced by the majority of their peers. Most, however, found themselves the recipients of racial slurs (even on their home courts), indifferent treatment from coaches and university officials and bewildered stares from teammates. A numbing sense of repetition creeps in as Jacobs works his way from Maryland to North Carolina to Georgia to Mississippi. Integration was so slow in coming in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 that for many of the players, college was the first time they attended school alongside whites. The author’s exhaustive interviews and impeccable research present a gut-wrenchingly clear picture of the obstacles the athletes encountered, but he rarely strays outside the sporting community for commentary, making it difficult to properly contextualize their impact on the civil-rights movement. A lack of closing observations exacerbates this shortcoming.
Nevertheless, this should be required reading for sports fans of all backgrounds.