BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana University has officially announced its decision to rename the on-campus Intramural Center after the legendary Bill Garrett who broke the Big Ten basketball color barrier.
The decision came Friday after a meeting of the university’s Board of Trustees where they voted to have the building named after Garrett.
Bill Garrett – A Pioneer in College Athletics
Bill Garrett was one of the trailblazers in sports and was an incredible player on the court. He was name Indiana Mr. Basketball in 1947, the same year that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in MLB. He originally planned to play basketball at the historically black Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tenn., but his plans changed and he enrolled at Indiana to play for the Hoosiers.
Bill Garrett played under Branch McCracken and was the first to break the color barrier as a regular starter in the Big Ten (in 1944 Richard “Dick” Culbertson was the first black player in the Big Ten, but was a bench player instead of a starter/regular player for Iowa). During his years in college basketball, he never played against or with another black player in the conference. Despite the obstacles he had faced, he had a successful basketball career in Indiana and beyond. In 1951, he was drafted by the Boston Celtics making him the third black player to be selected for the NBA. Bill Garrett died of a heart attack at the young age of 45.
The Bill Garrett Fieldhouse
Prior to its new name, the fieldhouse was named after Ora Wildermuth who was a graduate of Indiana University and a prominent campus fundraiser and IU trustee. However, he was also a known racist. In 1945, he wrote ““I am and shall always remain absolutely and utterly opposed to social intermingling of the colored race with the White.”” Then, he advocated to IU President Herman B Wells, “The average of the (Black) race as to intelligence, economic status and industry is so far below the white average that it seems to me futile to build up hope for a great future.” This occurred in 1948 which was during the time that Bill Garrett was on campus and a member of the Indiana Basketball program.
Now, with the current landscape and the increased focus on race relations, the issue of what to do with the Intramural Center was re-explored. The Wildermuth Intramural Center was actually stripped of its name around 2018, but was renamed the Intramural Center and left open for who to name the Fieldhouse after (if was deemed appropriate). After years of discussions, the issue has now come to a close with its official renaming completed to the Bill Garrett Fieldhouse.
The Trustees of Indiana University do hereby approve the naming of the Intramural Center on the IU Bloomington Campus as the William Leon Garrett Fieldhouse. Appropriate signage will be placed on the building to honor this great alumnus of Indiana University and one of its true courageous leaders in the integration and acceptance of African Americans in basketball at both the collegiate and professional level.Board of Trustees President’s Report (June 12, 2020)
Bill Garret also has a previously placed state historical marker outside the facility that was installed in 2017 that honors his contributions and achievements. Indiana University Basketball honored his achievements and the legacy of Bill Garrett in 2017, which marked the 70th anniversary after the integration of Big Ten basketball. Additionally, a statue of Bill Garrett was installed in Assembly Hall in 2017.
Current Indiana University President McRobbie has also initiated a systemic review of all the names to buildings on campus to help ensure that the remainder of the buildings and structures on IU campuses uphold the same values of Indiana University.