Listen to IT JUST SUITS ME by Bessie Jones, Hobart Jones, and Group.
Faburn DeFrantz had laid his best cards on the table and the message was clear: Take Bill Garrett or we will do everything we can to embarrass Herman Wells and Indiana University over segregation in basketball.
The president needed to buy time. He fell back on his often-used tactic of feigning ignorance and surprise, "Chief, I don't know of any formal barrier to a Negro's playing basketball here. I'm surprised to hear that. I can tell you without hesitation that Bill Garrett can come here as a student if he has the grades. But I can't order Coach McCracken to play somebody. Only the coach can decide who's good enough."
Defrantz saw his opening. "So...Herman...if Bill Garrett comes to IU, and he's good enough to play basketball on McCracken's team, he can play here. Is that what you're telling me?"
McCracken's face reddened. Despite Wells's heads-up, he had expected blunt confrontation. He was caught off guard. The president had said he would back McCracken completely if the coach decided Garrett could make his team. Wells had, in a stroke, taken away McCracken's defenses and given him support.
In the silence DeFrantz and his colleagues waited, avoided any hint of impatience.
McCracken started slowly. He wasn't sure how to address DeFrantz, so he avoided using his name. "I never promised any boy he could play."
"We've used up our basketball scholarships for this year. And it's awfully late."
Still silence. Sympathetic nods.
"But if he's here on campus...
"And making his grades...
"And he shows he can take the training and the discipline...
"And get along with the other players...
"And not react if the fans give him hell, which they might do..."
Long pause. DeFrantz kept his eyes on McCracken's, his expression encouraging, nodding slightly at each statement.
"And if he shows he can play well enough..."
Defrantz bolted out of his seat, grabbed McCracken's hand in both of his hands and pumped it vigorously. He knew victory when he heard it. "God bless you, Coach McCracken! You are doing the right thing! That's wonderful! They're gonna remember you for this, Coach!"
McCracken managed a weak smile. "That's what I'm afraid of."
Photo: Shoreditch mural (4).