Bradley: ISU’s Noteworthy Alumni Key in Breaking Racial Barriers


ISU President Daniel J. Bradley explains how his university has played a significant role in American civil rights.

  • Tell us something that not enough people know about your college or university that makes it such a special place.

Indiana State University is proud to have one of the most diverse student populations in Indiana. Providing access and opportunity to higher education has been an important part of Indiana State’s history since it was created as the Indiana State Normal School in 1865.

Indiana State and its alumni have also played an important part in breaking racial barriers. Willa Brown Chappell, a 1927 graduate of Indiana State, was the first African-American officer in the Civil Air Patrol. A lifelong activist, Chappell lobbied the U.S. government to integrate both the U.S. Army Air Corps and the Civilian Pilot Training Program. She was appointed as coordinator of the CPTP in Chicago and trained more than 200 pilots including some of the Tuskegee Airmen.

With basketball tournament time upon us, many people may not be aware of the role Indiana State had in integrating the national basketball scene. In 1947, the Indiana State Sycamores men’s basketball team, coached by John Wooden, won the conference title and was invited to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) tournament. (Coach Wooden, of course, would later go on to win 10 NCAA championships at UCLA.)

However, the tournament officials had one stipulation to their invitation. Clarence Walker, Indiana State’s one African-American player, could not attend. Coach Wooden and the entire team immediately declined the invitation.

The following year, the team again won the conference championship and was invited to the national tournament. This time, the NAIA relented and let Walker attend. He played in the 1948 tournament with the full and unrelenting support of his coaches and teammates, becoming the first African-American to play in a national collegiate basketball tournament.

Indiana State has also been an avenue to success for many first-generation college students. Helping students achieve their educational goals remains a top priority and is a key component of Indiana State’s new strategic plan, “The Pathway to Success.”

Tomorrow: Indiana University’s Michael McRobbie

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