In 1939, Indiana high school basketball star George Crowe was involved in a race-related controversy — not his own doing — that received widespread newspaper coverage at the time but has been lost in history since, buried so deeply that even Crowe himself, today, can’t recall there was ever any fuss. But there was. And it revealed the ahead-of-its-time greatness of Indiana.
Part 2 of a multi-part series on George Crowe, the last living New York (Harlem) Rens player.
In Part I of this series of articles, last week, I mentioned a little known controversy that surrounded George Crowe just after the final game of the 1939 Indiana state high school basketball championships.
I want to expand upon that, because it brings to light a remarkable story.
It involved the apparently racially motivated snubbing of Crowe by the review committee for the coveted Gimbel prize. The prize was awarded annually to the one player in the Hoosier schoolboy basketball championships who — essentially — exhibited the best all-around skills and mental attitude.
The incident received widespread newspaper coverage at the time but has been lost in history since, buried so deeply, in fact, that even Crowe himself has difficulty today recalling that there was ever any fuss.
But there was.
Much of it was stirred up by a white sports columnist for The Hammond Times named John Whitaker, who wrote under the nickname “The Speculator.”
Whitaker accused the Gimbel organization of racism, in a column that’s republished below.
As you will see, he went way beyond just sticking up for Crowe.
In almost every conceivable way, Whitaker seems to have been far ahead of his time. On the other hand, as I described in Part I, the reaction to his column was so overwhelmingly positive, that it’s clear his readers — Indianans — were also, in many ways, far ahead of the times.
In fact, some of Whitaker’s language — remember, this was in 1939 rural Indiana — sounds a lot like the language of Dr. Martin Luther King in the 1960s and of President Barack Obama today.
Speculating in Sports
by John Whitaker
The 15,000 who saw the Frankfort-Franklin finale in Indianapolis Saturday night thought that a colored boy … George Crowe of Franklin … had clinched the Gimbel award. The 15,000 said so many during the afternoon and evening and especially during the waning minutes of the championship game when colored George Crowe returned to the game.
Yes, the crowd said so in those waning minutes by standing as one and cheering a boy whose superior at defensive play and good sportsmanship has never been seen in Butler Fieldhouse. But the board said no by naming Meyers.
The Speculator wonders if the board of control lacked the courage to become the first board voting a Gimbel prize to a colored boy. The Speculator also wonders if there’ll come a day when a Tonkovich, a Yablonowski, a Kovacich, or a Ziemba from the plant districts of the north will be denied the Gimbel award because he didn’t have the opportunity to select a father named Jones or Smith.
And why not wonder about it after what happened Saturday night to the surprise of at least 75 per cent of the 15,o00 bleacherites?
The five men who ignored colored George Crowe of Franklin muffed a swell opportunity to prove — at least to all Indiana basketball fans — that Indiana does have racial tolerance. They apparently did not hear the crowd which yelled its approval of the colored marvel. They either did not hear or were too preoccupied with their own self-importance to recognize the pleadings of a crowd that really believed in democracy and sportsmanship.
They’re high school principals … those five men who passed up George Crowe … men intrusted with the teaching of tolerance … men who are supposed to strengthen our democratic institutions … men probably of the type which never passes the chance to wave the flag and point out the faults of countries in Europe.
Teachers? … Teachers, hell! They need to go back to school and study under a faculty selected from the plain folks … Catholic and Protestant … black and white … rich and poor … who comprised the 15,000 crowd on hand Saturday night when George Crowe was reminded by five little men that his color wasn’t right.
Remarkable, I think.
Whitaker was fairly new to the job back in 1939, but he would outlast any critics he might have had, writing for The Hammond Times for some 35 years before finally retiring in the early 1970s.
Part 3 of this series on George Crowe, the last living New York (Harlem) Rens player.