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History Department

Race Relations at the University of Illinois -- Learning in Black and White


The following articles, from the University of Illinois newspaper, provide historical context for race relations at Hanover College.

Margie Moeller, "Publish Racial Discrimination Study," University of Illinois Daily Illini, 17 Nov. 1966, p. 1.

Rita James Simon, associate professor in sociology, and James W. Carey, assistant professor of journalism, have published the findings of their research into alleged discrimination against Negro athletes at the University.

Their article, "The Phantom Racist," appears in the November issue of Trans-Action magazine, a publication primarily written for those in the social sciences.

An incident, in 1963 precipitated the search for what Simon and Carey label the "phantom racist," because "the specific charges of discrimination were never resolved. They underscore the continuing problems of Negro students at the University."

At that time three freshman Negro athletes at the University approached a Negro graduate student and complained to him about racial discrimination against them.

Specifically, their complaint was that a member of the football staff had urged them not to date or be seen with white girls.

Spurred by this complaint, a group of graduate students, most of them Negro and members of the campus chapter of NAACP formed an ad hoc committee of Students for Human Dignity and Social Peace.

The committee presented testimony taken from Negro athletes to the university administration and to the all-University Committee on Race Relations in December 1963.

The athletes contented "that the University of Illinois was not a good school for Negroes; they said the atmosphere was hostile and they had been humiliated by teachers, coaches, other athletes, and white students. They said that when they were used by the Athletic Association to recruit other Negro athletes, they had a difficult time, in good conscience, urging them to come."

The Department of Physical Education and the Athletic Association were investigated by a race relations committee.

As a result the provost issued a statement in September 1964 that warned against discrimination against Negro athletes, but did not specifically confirm the ad hoc committee charges.

In 1965, the NAACP made alleged discrimination at the University a public issue. They published charges of discrimination and sent letters to high schools throughout the nation, urging Negro athletes not to come to the University.

A retaliatory statement, claiming to represent the opinions of all Negro athletes on campus, was released to the press. It denounced the NAACP and defended the coaches and the Athletic Association.

An NAACP spokesman called this statement a fraud. The ensuing conflict was picked up by the national news services and publicized across the country.

Simon and Carey undertook independent research to determine the facts.

They interviewed members of the NAACP, Negro athletes, and concerned members of the faculty.

Fifteen Negro athletes involved in the original controversy were asked if they had personally experienced discrimination at the University.

Seven answered "yes," seven "no" and one said "it is difficult to answer." Those who answered "yes" said, "from other students," and also said, "from other athletes and the physical education faculty." Specifically they mentioned: name calling, warnings by coaches not to become involved with white girls, receiving lower grades in physical education classes than they felt were deserved, and hearing teachers tell "Uncle Tom" jokes.

In reply to the question "If you had the chance to do it over, which university would you most like to attend?" eight chose the University. Of those choosing other schools, five gave as reason: "a more liberal racial climate," or "you can go places with a white girl without being disliked or looked at too hard."

In summarizing, Simon and Carey attempt to analyze the gulf between the NAACP and Negro athletes on campus. They believe that it is "grounded in the stigma of intellectual inferiority."

"The cliche that beefy athletes recruited to play in highly commercialized college sports, especially football, whether Negro American from the slums or white American from the mines and fields, are stupid, lower class, and uncouth is certainly not new and not based on race.

"But the white student does not feel that the behavior of white athletes reflects on him; while the tenuous intellectual identity of Negroes makes them fear being classified with Negro athletes, and re-saddled with this stigma."

Speaking of what they see as a "fundamental indifference of the Negro athletes here (and perhaps in general) to civil rights," Simon and Carey state that "As individuals many may resent strongly the discrimination they perceive all too clearly."

"But they see little to be gained by joining an organization which might protect them from the verbal barbs, but hurt their chances of success in the one area in which they are skilled. So they identify with, spend their time with, and they attach their hopes to the world of sports and to people who can train and grant them recognition in that world."

Simon and Carey's impression is that the unsuccessful Negro athlete will sense discrimination while the successful athlete is not likely to feel any.

They see the attack on the Athletic Association as a symbolic attack on "the Negroes" general alienation from and unhappiness with the University.

"The NAACP is not out in this case to save the athletes from themselves or the Athletic Association, but to galvanize public sentiment behind the general plight of the Negro at the University of Illinois and not the specific plight of an athlete warned about dating white girls."

"What they wanted was proof that the University understood the problems of Negro students, and was on their side -- but they did not get it."

[This article is one that students in His234 "Studies in American Cultural History" selected to illustrate race relations at predominantly white colleges and universities in the Midwest. It is a transcription of the text as it appears in the digital version of the Daily Illini. For more on race relations at the University of Illiois, see "Early African American Students at the University of Illinois."]

"'No-dunk" Decree Affects Negroes . . . Alcindor Says New Rule Discriminates," University of Illinois Daily Illini, 20 Sept. 1967, p. 14.

"To me the new 'no-dunk' rule smacks a little of discrimination," charges UCLA college basketball star Lew Alcindor in an interview in Sport magazine.

Alcindor, the 7-1 3/8 inch giant who led the Bruins to an undefeated (30-0) season and the NCAA championship as a sophomore in 1966-67, discussed college basketball's new "no-dunk" rule and a number of other controversial issues for the first time.

"When you look at it all the way down to the high school level, most of the people who dunk are black athletes," says Alcindor. "I'm not trying to be biased, really, that's just how it is. I'm trying to look at it objectively. I don't want to indict anyone, but I've got to say that has to be on my mind and the possibility of why they did it. That's the way things happen and to me, something is wrong."

Moving away from basketball and on to other topics in the Sport article, Alcindor comments on the Black Muslim movement.

"Contrary to what everybody is saying, the Muslims are doing a lot of good," says Alcindor. "There are certain things about the Muslim organization I can't personally get ready for . . . that's me personally. But, like in Harlem, they're getting people off drugs and the prostitutes off the street.

"They're giving people pride in themselves and giving them a little bit of direction. There is good and bad about the whole thing. They set up stores, restaurants, and things, and they keep them in the community for the use of the community.

On the subject of his responsibility to the Negro community as a sports celebrity, Alcindor says: "I want to try to represent something positive for the people in the community because you know how kids idolize people.

[This article was selected to illustrate race relations at predominantly white colleges and universities in the Midwest. It is a transcription of the text as it appears in the digital version of the Daily Illini. For more on race relations at the University of Illiois, see "Early African American Students at the University of Illinois."  Note that Lew Alcindor later changed his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar.]