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GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI
Alexander Wolff
March 10, 2003
Forty years ago a courageous college president defied a court order barring Mississippi State from integrated competition and sent his team to face black players in the NCAA tournament
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March 10, 2003

Ghosts Of Mississippi

Forty years ago a courageous college president defied a court order barring Mississippi State from integrated competition and sent his team to face black players in the NCAA tournament

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"We always think of how segregation and all denied members of the black race," says Bailey Howell. "But in this case, because of segregation, we were denied an opportunity to see how good we really were."

Harkness agrees. "We talk of black history, but sometimes the people don't have to be black to bring about progress. Those guys didn't have to be supportive of integration. I don't know if they'd have wanted to go out to dinner with us, or us with them, even if now we would. They just had to want to play the best."

Among those many hostile letters to the president, one tried to scare him with a nightmare scenario. This step, it predicted, would surely lead to all-black Alcorn A&M someday playing in Mississippi State's gym. In 1979 Alcorn did just that, defeating the Bulldogs in a first-round NIT game in Humphrey Coliseum.

D.W. Colvard took note of the development from North Carolina. He had returned there in 1966 to become chancellor at the state university in Charlotte, where he still lives, at age 91.

Babe McCarthy, on the other hand, didn't see that day. He had died of stomach cancer several years earlier. He left Starkville in 1965 after a couple of losing seasons, then spent six years coaching in the ABA. Still it isn't hard to imagine him at the Alcorn-Mississippi State game, with that voice of his, big and deep and smooth, urging people to squeeze over just a little bit—to get a little friendlier with their neighbor.

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