Wilt Chamberlain Helps to Integrate Lawrence's Dine-O-Mite Inn
Prior to the 1950s, most whites in Lawrence, including Coach Phog Allen, accepted racial segregation. However, when Allen started recruiting Wilt Chamberlain he began urging local businesses to end the practice of racial segregation. Chamberlain arrived on campus, in the midst of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. And he was aware of his celebrity status and used it to push for integration in subtle ways. Chamberlain went to the leading restaurants that drew the color line near campus like the Jayhawk Cafe, Brick's and other establishments that practiced racial segregation. While the proprietors might refuse service to just about any other African American, Chamberlain was a celebrity and everyone knew that the basketball team depended on him. He was being recruited by other colleges and the Harlem Globetrotters even while at Kansas. If those proprietors angered Chamberlain, he might leave Lawrence. If that happened, those proprietors would lose more than a few customers. But if Chamberlain was at your restaurant, others wanted to be there as well. The Dine-O-Mite was one of those establishments that drew the color line. Chamberlain went there and he made a point of befriending the owners in a way that softened their views on race. As historian Aram Goudsouzian concludes, remembering Chamberlain as a civil rights crusader would be a vast oversimplification. He refused to participate in sit-ins and the fact that he could go places other African Americans could not was troubling to those who were facing physical assaults and arrests. The local newspaper praised Chamberlain for not participating in these protests, referring to his style as "friendly" and non-revolutionary." At the same time, Chamberlain might have simply avoided controversy altogether-a path taken by most athletes. His deliberate action to break the color line, even if only for himself, showed that white and black people could dine together in Lawrence and business owners could serve African Americans without losing white customers.
Aram Goudsouzian, "'Can Basketball Survive Chamberlain?': The Kansas Years of Wilt the Stilt." Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains Autumn 2005 (Vol. 28, No. 3).