“Full Court Press: Mississippi State, the Press and the Battle to Integrate College Basketball” by Jason A. Peterson
Basketball, college, history, race, Mississippi State
September 6, 2016
4 of 5 stars (very good)
From 1959 to 1963, one of the best college basketball teams in the nation was located in Starkville, Mississippi. The local college, Mississippi State University, won three Southeastern Conference titles in that time, but yet only went to the championship tournament only once, in 1963. It was in that year that the university challenged an unwritten law that would forbid schools in the state from taking part in integrated activities, which would include a championship basketball tournament.
The press in Mississippi played an important part of upholding this rule and later in its eventual collapse by the writings from influential columnists and newspapers. The role that the press had in the role of Mississippi State’s plight is explored in this book by Jason A. Peterson.
While the book does have some coverage of the Maroons' (later called the Bulldogs) winning teams and some interesting information on coach James “Babe: McCarthy, the book’s primary focus is on the press coverage of the team and the integration issue. Peterson writes about many aspects of this issue from the point of view of how the press handled this matter, mostly newspapers as that was the principal form of media at the time. He covers not only the basketball team’s articles, but also opinion pieces on the issue of segregation and the unwritten acceptance of the Closed Society. This group was responsible for the segregation policy and rather than upset this powerful political sect, the press was mostly supportive.
However, once the University of Mississippi admitted a black student despite protests from the Closed Society, the attitude toward allowing the MSU team to play integrated teams started to change and the role of the press is just as interesting as the basketball itself. Peterson’s detailed writing makes for very compelling reading as the adventures of the team did not end with them going to the NCAA tournament in 1963. Their cloak-and-dagger exit from Mississippi to Michigan to play that game was contrasted with the overwhelmingly positive reception they received when returning to the Magnolia State, even though they lost their opening game to Loyola.
No matter the sport, the topic of racial relations and how sports has played a part in shaping them makes for interesting reading and research and this book is another example of it. Readers who are interested in racial issues in sports or the role of the press in these issues will enjoy this book as much as fans of college basketball, specifically MSU or the Southeastern Conference.
I wish to thank University Press of Mississippi for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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