African American Displays and Historical Contributions to Basketball in Illinois
By: Bruce Firchau

The story of segregation and the struggles to integrate basketball at the high school, collegiate and professional levels will be highlighted in our museum.  The basketball stories and facts that we can share with our visitors will reflect the historical significance that segregation and integration played in Illinois Basketball.  Our galleries will parallel the societal issues America had with race relations outside the athletic field of competition. 

Illinois geographically is one of our longest states.  The southern portion of Illinois is equivalent to middle Virginia.  As a result, when it came to integration, Illinois shared the same prejudices that the deep south held.  There seem to be no defined line that separated Illinois on racial prejudices.  Presently Chicago is still one the most segregated places in the United States.  The Chicago Public School System has reflected this segregation issue for decades.     

It is our goal to bring our segregation and integration stories to life through galleries, oral histories, pictures, and guest speakers.  This will be an important part of our outreach programs to teach our students that we had the same problems on the basketball court as we had in our daily life styles.

We have the historical memorabilia ability to showcase the following:

The formation of the Globetrotters (West Side of Chicago) and their historical contributions to Illinois Basketball.

Stories of segregation when it came to Illinois High School Basketball and the Illinois High School Athletic Association.  We can do a timeline, roll call of the “All Black Schools State Champions”, and the beginnings of integration at state tournament time.  To help us we have we have recorded several oral histories on this topic and will use pictures of the teams that won the state championships. 

Leo Ferris, was the manager of the Tri-City Blackhawks (one of our first professional basketball teams in Illinois.)  Besides being the creator of the 24 second shot clock, Leo was the first to integrate professional basketball when he hired “Pop” Gates to play for the Tri-City Blackhawks.  It is important to note that Leo did this one month before Branch Rickey brought Jackie Robinson into Major League Baseball.  Two years ago, ESPN highlighted Leo and this story.  In 2017, Leo Ferris was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Quincy College in 1955, became the first northern college to start an “All Black Team”.  This has been researched and written about.  Some of the players from that team are still with us today.

Loyola University is the only Division I School in Illinois to win the NCAA Championship.  The “Championship Ramblers” started four “black players”.  The movie “Glory Road” on the 1966,Texas Western University Team, winning the NCAA Championship could have been done on the 1963 Loyola University Team.  In the first round of the 1963 NCAA Tournament, Loyola played Mississippi State University.  This game is referred to as the “Game of Change” since Mississippi State Universities were barred from playing integrated schools. Mississippi State University had to sneak out of Mississippi in the middle of the night to play against Loyola.  Our museum design company, The Maude Group recently rebuilt the athletic displays at Loyola University including their 1963 National Championship run.  This is a natural fit for them to do this again for the museum.  We also have the 1963 NCAA Championship game on DVD. 

We will also have a gallery displaying the “Chicago Playground Legends”.  Great players from the 1950’s to recent years that played in the Chicago Public and Catholic Leagues will be featured.  There are so many outstanding players that came out of Chicago and their stories will enlighten the museum visitors.  This also opens the door for them to come to Pontiac to speak or conduct a clinic.

No other coach in Illinois High School Basketball History has won more games than Dorothy Gaters.  We will have a gallery for this iconic coach telling the stories of her career, great teams and players. 

Two hundred fifty-nine Illinois High School graduates played in the NBA or ABA.  Presently we have 29 players from Illinois High School playing in the NBA.  Many of our professional basketball players are African American.  It is our goal to have a gallery honoring their accomplishments.