Monday marked the 50th anniversary of James Meredith’s enrollment at Ole Miss. He was the first black student admitted to the university, and it was a landmark moment in the Civil Rights movement.
But a few months later, on March 15, 1963, the other major university in this state also made a bold statement. The Mississippi State men’s basketball team, in quiet defiance of Gov. Ross Barnett, snuck out of the state to play an NCAA tournament game against an integrated Loyola basketball team.
That game, the events surrounding it, and in fact that entire era in MSU basketball history – the late 1950s to early 1960s – are the subject of a book that just hit shelves this week. It’s called “Champions for Change: How the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Their Bold Coach Defied Segregation.”
The author, Kyle Veazey, is a former MSU beat reporter who now works for the Commercial-Appeal in Memphis. He began this book nearly 21⁄2 years ago in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the game, which carried far greater significance than the final result (Loyola won).
In fact, Veazey posits that this game was a by-product of the Meredith situation. He said segregationists reasoned that if their sports teams didn’t play against integrated teams, then segregation would remain in place.
Veazey told me that “had James Meredith not integrated Ole Miss five months earlier, this story would not have happened, because it sort of broke down that wall. The people who were supportive of the unwritten law, what did they have to fall back on now? Their schools were integrated. This was happening, whether they liked it or not.”
Of course, as Veazey points out, it still took “an amazing amount of courage” on the part of MSU president Dean Colvard to go through with the plan.
Veazey didn’t hear the story of this team until he took over the MSU beat for the Clarion-Ledger. There have been a couple of documentaries made on the game, but to his surprise, no books had been written.
Now, there is one. I haven’t gotten a copy yet, but I can recommend “Champions for Change” simply because I know Veazey’s talent as a reporter and writer.
He’s telling a story that needs to be remembered by us all.
Brad Locke (email@example.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at DJournal.com.