IU legend Bill Garrett honored with historical marker

  • 04/08/2017 9:36 pm in

BLOOMINGTON – Bill Garrett, the first African-American basketball player in the Big Ten, was honored Saturday with the dedication of an Indiana historical marker.

By suiting up for Branch McCracken’s Hoosiers in 1948, Garrett broke an unwritten rule known as the ‘gentlemen’s agreement,’ which barred Big Ten schools from rostering black players.

“This was a great occasion that should have been done long before (today),” said Marvin Christie, who played with Garrett during the 1949-50 season. “I’m glad they finally recognized what a wonderful guy he was.”

The unveiling of the historical marker was preceded by a ceremony in the Indiana Memorial Union. Speakers included Casey Pfeiffer of the Indiana Historical Bureau, former Herald-Times writer Bob Hammel, trustee Bart Kaufman, provost Lauren Robel, author Tom Graham and Billy Garrett Jr.

“We’re really proud to be here, and that IU honored (Bill) in that way,” Garrett Jr. said. “Our father’s legacy gets to live on forever.”

There were also two pre-recorded video messages, one from former IU guard Quinn Buckner and another from Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany.

“Jim Delany speaking by video was very important to the ceremony,” said Tom Graham, co-author of Getting Open: The Unknown Story of Bill Garrett and the Integration of College Basketball. “It was an acknowledgment by the Big Ten of Garrett’s importance. It wasn’t just an IU breakthrough, it was a Big Ten breakthrough. Implicitly, it’s an acknowledgment of a Big Ten ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ that Garrett broke.”

Those in attendance included Garrett’s family and several of his former teammates, former IU running back George Taliaferro, former assistant coach Tim Buckley, and IU players Freddie McSwain, Juwan Morgan, Zach McRoberts, Tim Priller and Josh Newkirk.

“The fact that the IU basketball players turned out, several of them, was quite touching,” Graham said.

Following the ceremony and luncheon, the historical marker was unveiled in front of the building previously known as The Fieldhouse, which hosted IU men’s basketball home games from 1928-1960.

The building was renamed the Wildermuth Intramural Center in 1971 after former IU board president Ora Wildermuth. Wildermuth was an opponent of integrating IU.

In 2008, IU planned to rename the building once again, this time as the Garrett-Wildermuth Fieldhouse. That plan was quickly scrapped.

“The problem is not the marker,” Graham said. “The marker is for a very good thing, a breakthrough for integration. The problem is with the name of the building.”

Garrett led IU in scoring and rebounding in each of his three seasons on the IU varsity team (players were required to be on the freshmen team their first year), and was named an All-American as a senior.

“If basketball is in our heart, then it’s no exaggeration to say that Bill Garrett fundamentally changed the heart of IU,” Provost Lauren Robel said at the ceremony. “Because of him, we are a more open, more inclusive and more accepting community.”

Prior to joining IU, Garrett was named Indiana’s ‘Mr. Basketball’ after leading Shelbyville to the state title in 1947. Following his playing career, Garrett coached Crispus Attucks to a state title in 1959.

Garrett died in 1974 as the result of a heart attack. He was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame the same year.

For more on Bill Garrett and his legacy, listen to Jerod Morris’ interview with Tom Graham and read Casey Pfeiffer’s two-part series.

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  • kennygeorge

    Our country was made great by pioneers such as Mr. Garrett. They sacrificed much, endured even more, but without them, we would never have become the great nation we are today. There are many events and people that I hope our nation never forgets so that we continue to challenge ourselves to be even greater. We are the free worlds biggest hope for continued freedom. Thank you Mr. Garrett. Thank you to the family for sharing this wonderful man with us.

  • SCHoosier

    Great H0osier and man..but I’ll bet those “cool” shoes cost about 4.99 at the time:)

  • pcantidote

    I didn’t realize he was from Shelbyville. I’m guessing he had some interesting experiences there as well.

  • sarge

    This guy was a legendary player and coach, who’s legacy will never be forgotten. What an impact he had on this entire state. It’s amazing how a simple game can have an impact on major issues within our society. I will never understand his struggle, but I will always remember and celebrate his accomplishments in life and for our country. I am honored to have him as a Hoosier! Thank you to his family and to the University for their contributions to this milestone. Have a great day Hoosier Nation!

  • Mark Bando

    Congrats to the family of bill Garrett. It is well deserved

  • Outoftheloop

    It is about time Indiana honored Bill Garrett! Now we need to re-name the building the Garrett- Wildermuth Fieldhouse! No excuses, just do it! Where were Archie and the rest of the team? Everyone should have attended this ceremony! Indiana should be known as the first “B1G” team to integrate the races in basketball, KY as the last “all Lilly-White” team to play in the National Championship game!

  • Outoftheloop

    I stand corrected!

  • John D Murphy

    Pretty classy of Tim Buckley.

  • rob salway