Full Court Press
Mississippi State University, the Press, and the Battle to Integrate College Basketball
How basketball loosened the grip of segregation and its proponents in the media
During the civil rights era, Mississippi was caught in the hateful embrace of a white caste system that enforced segregation. Rather than troubling the Closed Society, state news media, on the whole, marched in lockstep or, worse, promoted the continued subservience of blacks. Surprisingly, challenges from Mississippi's college basketball courts questioned segregation's validity and its gentleman's agreement that prevented college teams in the Magnolia State from playing against integrated foes.
Mississippi State University stood at the forefront of this battle for equality in the state with the school's successful college basketball program. From 1959 through 1963, the Maroons won four Southeastern Conference basketball championships and created a dynasty in the South's preeminent college athletic conference. However, in all four title-winning seasons, the press feverishly debated the merits of a National Collegiate Athletic Association appearance for the Maroons, culminating in Mississippi State University's participation in the integrated 1963 NCAA Championship.
Full Court Press examines news articles, editorials, and columns published in Mississippi's newspapers during the eight-year existence of the gentleman's agreement that barred black participation, the challenges posed by Mississippi State University, and the subsequent integration of college basketball. While the majority of reporters opposed any effort to integrate, a segment of sports journalists, led by the charismatic Jimmie McDowell of the Jackson State Times, emerged as bold advocates for equality. Full Court Presshighlights an ideological metamorphosis within the press during the civil rights movement. The media, which had long minimized the struggle of blacks, slowly transformed into an industry that considered the plight of black Mississippians on equal footing with whites.
"Peterson's research and presentation of how the 1960s press handled this segregation issue in print is extensive and informative. . . . Recommended. All readers. "- CHOICE
"Full Court Press is certainly a must-read for any Mississippian as well as for historians of sports and race. "- Josh Howard, The Journal of Southern History
"Scholars who teach graduate courses or are interested in the intersection between civil rights and journalism history, journalism history and sports, or civil rights and southern political history may want to reserve a place for Full Court Press on their reading lists or in their personal libraries. "- Pete Smith, Journalism History
"Peterson's archival research is impressive. He examines nearly every publication and sports editor in the state of Mississippi from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. . . . Full Court Press [provides] us with historical context for the press's coverage of issues of sport and race that is critical to understanding what we see in news today. "- Robert D. Byrd, Jr., Newspaper Research Journal
"A well-organized volume that is written with enough skill to attract some readers outside of traditional academia"- Jeffery Martin, Mississippi Libraries
"The celebrity phenomena of, say, LeBron James and Stephen Curry owe their possibility to a roster of names few outside of the state of Mississippi have ever heard: Coolidge Ball, Wilbert Jordan Jr. , Larry Fry, and Jerry Jenkins. These barrier breakers integrated the hardwoods of the Magnolia State against the entrenched and well-funded wishes of the state's power elites. It's a little-known story. Fortunately, Jason A. Peterson decided to tell it and to ground that story in the archives of Mississippi's many daily and weekly newspapers. The result is an important chronicle compellingly told. African American history, which is to say American history, is better off for it. "- Brian Carroll, author of The Black Press and Black Baseball, 1915-1955: A Devil's Bargain and When to Stop the Cheering? The Black Press, the Black Community, and the Integration of Professional Baseball
"This well-researched investigation is a welcome contribution to the ever-expanding body of scholarship documenting Mississippi's long struggle for civil rights. Studies examining the Magnolia State's closed society ethos have rarely employed popular culture as a tool for unlocking meaning in the state's long and complex struggle over black freedom. The book clearly displays that the saliency of both popular sports and the newsprint media covering them deserve equal recognition next to the state's voting booths, picket lines, and lunch counters as sights for contested meaning in Mississippi's battle over integration. With insightful analysis and carefully crafted argument, Jason Peterson reminds us that sports and their media culture have long been a window through which both Mississippi and the nation perceive their ideas about race and inclusion. "- Kevin D. Greene, codirector of the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage at the University of Southern Mississippi