Historical Marker Honors Pioneering Hoops Star
The Indiana Historical Bureau will unveil a state marker Saturday in Bloomington commemorating a Hoosier basketball legend. Bill Garrett, an Indiana high school basketball state champion and 1947 Mr. Basketball, became the first African-American to play basketball in the Big Ten Conference when he debuted for Indiana University in 1948.
Garrett was hired as the boys basketball coach at Crispus Attucks in 1957, taking the Tigers to a state title in 1959. The marker will be placed outside Wildermuth Intramural Center on the IU campus where Garrett became an All-American and was the only black player in the conference until he graduated in 1951.
The marker is titled "Integrating Basketball" and reads:
Segregation was rampant when African American Bill Garrett led Shelbyville to 1947 state high school basketball title. At the time, an unwritten rule barred blacks from Big Ten basketball. Faburn DeFrantz and Indianapolis black leaders worked with IU president Herman B Wells to give Garrett a chance at IU. Garrett's 1948 varsity debut directly challenged Big Ten ban. Garrett’s IU years saw parts of campus desegregated, but in the Big Ten he never played with or against another black player. He graduated in 1951 as an All-American, with IU’s career scoring record. His achievements helped create opportunities for other black players in the Midwest. Named coach at Indianapolis Crispus Attucks in 1957, his team won the 1959 state title.
?The public is invited to attend the dedication ceremony for this Indiana state historical marker that examines segregation in Big Ten basketball and commemorates the men who helped integrate the sport in the late 1940s. Up until 1948, an unwritten rule subscribed to by all schools in the conference barred black players from playing on Big Ten varsity basketball teams. Referred to as the "gentleman's agreement," the "unwritten rule," or the "lily-white rule," the color line in basketball came under increasing attack throughout the 1940s as more and more talented black players were being overlooked solely because of their race. Though some denied the existence of such an agreement barring blacks from Big Ten basketball, the continued absence of African Americans on these teams indicated otherwise.
In 1947, after African American player Bill Garrett helped lead his Shelbyville High School team to the state title and was named Indiana's "Mr. Basketball," black leaders in Indianapolis banded together in order to persuade Indiana University to give him an opportunity to make the school’s team. Garrett, like other star black basketball players before him, had not been recruited by IU or any other Big Ten team following the 1947 state high school tournament. Faburn DeFrantz, Executive Director of the Senate Avenue YMCA in Indianapolis, spearheaded the effort, and he and other black leaders met with IU President Herman B Wells on Garrett’s behalf. Following this meeting, President Wells asked IU basketball coach Branch McCracken to give Garrett a chance to make the team (IHB will help dedicate a new state marker for Branch McCracken later this spring in Monrovia). Garrett would not only make the varsity team in 1948, overcoming the longstanding "gentleman's agreement," but he would thrive on it for three years, breaking IU’s career scoring record and earning an All-American selection in 1951. His success both on and off the court helped open the door for other black players in the years following. Though he was the only African American player on a Big Ten varsity basketball team during his time at IU, in the season immediately following Garrett’s graduation, seven black basketball players made Big Ten teams.
More than 600 state historical markers have been installed throughout the state.