Indiana State’s story is best told through its graduates and faculty. Here is one of a dozen people who exemplifies the university’s key qualities.
When Clarence Walker came from East Chicago to Indiana State University in the 1940s, he had no idea the place he would earn in history. A talented basketball player, Walker became an integral part of the Sycamore team. However, when the talented team received a bid to the NAIA tournament in Kansas City, Walker was not allowed to go because he was African-American.
Sycamore coach John Wooden opted to stay home. “He still was a member of my team and I wouldn’t take the team without him,” Wooden said at the time.
The next season, the Sycamores were again invited to the tournament — without Walker. Coach Wooden again refused the invitation. ISU President Ralph Tirey lobbied the case before the NAIA, persuading them to change their policy.
Walker goes down in history as the first African American to play in a collegiate tournament on March 9, 1948, at Kansas City Municipal Auditorium. He and his team created an opportunity that opened the door for many others to follow. Some regard the event as the most important achievement in Wooden’s long unparalleled career.
In a journal he kept at that time, Walker praised teammates who helped him deal with racial slights on that trip to Kansas City. But his greatest praise was written for his coach. “If all people were in mind as he is in character,” Walker wrote of Wooden, “I think Mr. J.C. (Jim Crow) would be trivial.”
After graduating from Indiana State University in 1950, Walker went on to have a highly successful career as a teacher, high school administrator and tennis coach mostly in Gary and East Chicago, where he and his wife lived with their children. He died in 1989.