Dean W. Colvard
Dean Wallace Colvard (July 10, 1913 – June 28, 2007) is a former president of Mississippi State University, notable for his role in a 1963 controversy surrounding the participation of the university's basketball team in the NCAA Tournament.
Born in North Carolina, Colvard received his B.A. Degree from Berea College, and followed that up by getting his M.A. Degree from the University of Missouri. He then went to Purdue University and received his Ph.D. in science and mathematics. Colvard attended college for a total of 19 years, from 1931 until 1950.
1963 NCAA Tournament Controversy
After serving as the Dean of Agriculture at North Carolina State University, Colvard became president of Mississippi State University. He arrived in 1960, when Mississippi had an "unwritten law" against integrated collegiate athletics. This meant that no team from Mississippi could accept an invitation to play against any team that had African Americans on it. The rule came into effect after 1955, when Jones County Junior College accepted the invitation to the Junior Rose Bowl against a team of mixed race from Compton, California.
During the eight-year existence of the "unwritten law", no team confronted it more than the MSU Maroons basketball team. The Maroons (now known as Bulldogs) won three SEC titles between 1959 and 1962, and by winning the title they were granted an invitation to the integrated NCAA Tournament. MSU turned down each offer because of the "unwritten law", and were not able to participate in postseason play because of this.
Babe McCarthy, the head basketball coach at MSU, expressed frustration at having his team excluded from the postseason tournament each year. Many claimed that the state of Mississippi was acting as a "closed society". McCarthy pleaded on his talk show to have his players allowed to play in postseason play during the 1963 season.
"It makes me sick to the heart to think that these players, who just clinched no worse than a tie for their third straight SEC championship, will have to put away their uniforms and not compete in the NCAA tournament… This is all I can say, but I think everyone knows how I feel," McCarthy said.
After the clinching game on February 25, 1962, many students marched up to the residence of Dean Colvard and staged a sit-in on his front lawn to show their support for the team. Colvard promised to take a look at the situation, but was later quoted as saying he "just was glad to have avoided a confrontation." Students still had no idea where Colvard stood in the issue. Despite the sit-in, the Maroons did not compete in the post season that year. Colvard later claimed that the reason was because "he did not feel well-enough established to make a decision of such sort."
In 1963, alumni and fans combined to show their support for the team in their battle against the "unwritten law". The Reflector, Mississippi State's student newspaper, got involved and challenged Colvard’s authority.
"Should a dynamic university be led by a man with the intelligence to make a decision on the merits of the case and the guts to back it up?" The Reflector editors wrote. "Or, should it be led by a man, who out of fear for his job, would listen to and be persuaded by politicians who are usually trying to create votes?"
An established alumni took a shot at Colvard, saying, "Are you...under so much of a threat of coercion and intimidation by those for powerful demagogues that you have no choice in the matter?"
Bowing to pressure to take a stand, Colvard presented the issue as an administrative affair rather than as an educational matter. He told the chairman of the College Board that he was going to allow the Maroons to play in the NCAA championships.
"It had begun to look as if our first major racial issue might pertain to basketball rather than to admissions. Although I knew opinion would be divided and feelings would be intense because of the unwritten law...I thought I had gained sufficient following that, win or lose, I should take decisive action," Colvard later said.
On March 2, 1963, Colvard announced publicly the acceptance of the invitation to the NCAA tournament. He did this fifteen minutes before the team’s final game of the season, against rival Ole Miss.
Colvard claimed in a statement, "In answer to a manifestation of interest and in light of my best judgment, it is my conclusion that as responsible members of the academic community and of the SEC we have no choice other than to go. Accordingly, as president of MSU I have decided that unless hindered by competent authority I shall send our basketball team to the NCAA competition."
Controversy grew between Colvard and local politicians. Although Governor Ross Barnett never issued a public statement, columnist Charles M. Hills has stated his opinion that Barnett privately "deplored" Colvard’s act. Meanwhile, Senator Billy Mitts accused Colvard of striking a "low blow to the people of Mississippi" and advocated "a substantial decrease in the financial appropriation for every university of this great state that encourages integration." He also added that only native sons should be trusted to occupy the chief executive officerships of Mississippi colleges so as never again to risk "a similar tragedy of this sort." Mitts did not stop there. He introduced a resolution in the state senate to prevent winning teams from accepting invitations to post-season games involving integrated teams (it was referred to a committee from which it never emerged). And most striking of all, shortly after the Mississippi Board of Trustees of Institutions of Higher Learning by an 8-3 vote upheld Colvard's decision and just hours before the team was to leave for the tournament, Mitts - a former State cheerleader and student body president - teamed with a local judge to acquire an injunction to be served on Colvard or Coach McCarthy prohibiting the team from participating in the tournament. Colvard, McCarthy, and the university athletic and assistant athletic director then slipped out of Starkville to prevent the injunction from having effect. The next morning, the basketball players and an assistant coach - not named in the injunction - flew to Nashville to pick up three of those who left to avoid the injunction including Coach McCarthy and then toward the game site where the injunction was dissolved by the Mississippi Supreme Court shortly before the first game tipoff.
Although Colvard was considered a hero within the university, outside of it, he was harshly criticized. Editors of local papers spoke out about the decision, claiming that the decision should not have been made, for fear of jeopardizing the southern way of life. Perhaps the harshest statement was made by a student of the university, who said, "... Bobby Kennedy may award you a medal of honor for the betrayal of State University and the people of Mississippi."
In their first post-season appearance following Colvard's decision, MSU played against Loyola University Chicago, which had four African-American players. They ended up losing 61-51 to the eventual NCAA champions. These events were later chronicled in the DVD One Night in March produced by Starkville, MS-based Broadcast Media Group, Inc.
In a 2003 interview with the Charlotte Observer, Colvard said of segregation controversy: ""I was going to send those boys to that tournament. If anybody was going to get in the way, well, I'd be the winner of that."
Departure from Mississippi State University
After Colvard’s tenure at MSU, he became the first Chancellor at the newly minted University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He held that position until his eventual retirement in 1978. Colvard was active in increasing the reputation of the university’s science and mathematics program, where he was also on the board of trustees. During his tenure, he oversaw the development of the University Research Park and the Discovery Place science museum in Uptown Charlotte.
Colvard continued to donate to UNC Charlotte and attended campus events until his death.
Colvard died at the age of 93 on June 28, 2007.
The Colvard Building on UNC Charlotte's main campus is named after him.
Benjamin F. Hilbun
|President of Mississippi State University
William L. Giles
|Chancellor of University of North Carolina at Charlotte
- Russell J. Henderson, "The 1963 Mississippi State University Basketball Controversy and the Repeal of the Unwritten Law: "Something More than the Game will be Lost"," Journal of Southern History 63 (November 1997): 827-854.
- James W. Silver, Mississippi: The Closed Society, New Enlarged Edition. Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., New York, N.Y., 1966, p. 62
- Erle Johnston, Mississippi's Defiant Years 1953-1973: An Interpretive Documentary with Personal Experiences. Lake Harbor Publishers, Forest, MS., 1990, pp. 195-196
- Silver, p. 62
- Johnston, p. 195
- Johnston, p. 198
- Atkins Library, J. Murray. "Dean W. Colvard Papers 1960-1992." November 20, 2003.http://library.uncc.edu/display/?dept=special&format=open&page=405#collectionInformation (accessed November 26, 2006).
- NCSU Libraries, "Dean W. Colvard Diary Abstracts." http://catalog.lib.ncsu.edu/web2/tramp2.exe/do_ccl_search/guest?setting_key=Files&servers=1home&index=default&*search_button=keyword&query=a994148 (accessed November 26, 2006).
- North Carolina State University Libraries Special Collections Research Center, "Guide to the Dean Wallace Colvard Papers." http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/findingaids/mss00205/ (accessed November 26, 2006).
- Leith, Terri. "Colvards' 4-H Leadership Endowment is latest Milestone in Stellar Career." October 28, 1997.http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/agcomm/magazine/winter06/colvards.html (accessed November 26, 2006).