IU Baseball Spring Trip to Florida 1956
In 1956, the Indiana University baseball team took a trip to South Florida with plans to play Florida State, Florida and Georgia Teachers. This six-game road trip was a chance for IU to get prepared for the season but the trip didn't allow the team's first African-American player, Eddie Whitehead, to participate. Instead, Whitehead was forced to stay in a separate dorm at Florida A&M, practice with a different team, and was denied service at restaurants along the way. Despite knowing that Whitehead would not be allowed to participate with the team, coach Ernie Andres and president Herman B. Wells agreed to let Whitehead take the trip. Ultimately, this decision would lead to some backlash from alumni, people in the south, and even the Ku Klux Klan. This treatment that Eddie Whitehead endured as a college baseball player came nearly ten years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
Backstory and Context
Prior to taking this trip to the south, the team had a pretty good idea of what Eddie Whitehead would face if he would go on this trip with the IU Baseball team. At this point in time, the Gary Post Tribune reported that, “...four Indiana Schools- Indiana, Notre Dame, Butler and Purdue- agreed on a policy of refusing to play any teams which require racial or religious segregation" (“Hoosiers Answer Dixie's Curbs," 1956). Despite this agreement, IU decided to follow-through on their contracts, which they already made, for this Florida baseball trip. In Florida, the law “barred games between amateur teams of mixed races” (“Hoosiers Answer Dixie's Curbs," 1956), forcing IU to exclude Eddie Whitehead. It should be noted that Florida State University had previously played against, “negroes of other colleges away from home” (McGrotha, 1956), according to the Indianapolis Times. Still, they refused to play against Whitehead on their home turf for fear that they might upset politicians because they are a state institution.
Despite the unequal treatment that Eddie Whitehead would face, coach Ernie Andres claimed that he was with Whitehead everywhere he went. When Whitehead was forced to eat in the hotel dining room kitchen in Tennessee, coach Andres said, “I ate in the kitchen with him” (Hudson, 1997). In Florida, Whitehead was forced to stay in a dormitory at Florida A&M, a Historically Black College, and practice with their team. While the rest of the IU baseball team stayed in, “one-time Air Force barracks” (McGrotha, 1956), at Florida State University, Whitehead stayed in a new dormitory at Florida A&M. Whitehead agreed saying, “It is a nice dormitory. Very much like the quad where we stay back at Indiana” (McGrotha, 1956). According to that same Indianapolis Times article, “...before the game, he worked out with Florida A&M…and while his teammates opened their baseball season…Eddie Whitehead sat across the stands of Centennial Field watching Florida A&M play Alabama A&M,” (McGrotha, 1956). IU baseball coach Andres said, “we thought it would be better for Eddie to work out with A&M rather than come here and just watch” (McGrotha, 1956). This article does state that Whitehead was there by choice, despite all of the unequal treatment that he received.
At some point during Indiana baseball’s trip to the south, president Herman B. Wells came out against the policy of the southern schools they were playing against of barring African-American players from participating in the game. Herman B. Wells stated that, “it’s outrageous the indignities now being suffered in the south by Eddie Whitehead" (Dr. Wells Calls Treatment of Negro Outrage, 1956). President Wells also stated that it would not have been possible to cancel the southern trip and still get the team some practice before the regular season began. President Wells was not alone in supporting Whitehead and voicing his outrage to the southern school’s policy of segregation. Days before Wells spoke to the paper, the Indiana University chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. sent a letter to his office urging the university to boycott the, “conscious act of discrimination” (Bash, 1956) that they were going to be involved in by playing against these teams that did not allow African-American players to play. Included in their letter, the IU N.A.A.C.P. chapter mentioned the resolution unanimously passed the night before at their meeting. This resolution again urged Indiana to, “refuse to engage in any athletic contests in which discrimination is practiced” (Bash, 1956). They additionally urged the athletic department to cancel the baseball games in Florida and Georgia as a result of the discrimination they knew would take place.
Not everyone was supportive of Herman B. Wells speaking out against the discrimination faced by Eddie Whitehead during Indiana baseball’s trip. President Wells received letters from various different types of people from the south who wanted to voice their outrage with Wells speaking out in support of Eddie Whitehead. A few days after Wells spoke out, a business man from Jackson, Mississippi sent him a letter disparaging him for condemning the south for their practices. Towards the end of the letter, he brought up how few black university presidents as well as professors there are in the state of Indiana. He suggested to Dr. Wells that he should look inward for change rather than trying to tell southerners how to live. President Wells also received a postcard signed only from the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The KKK referred to Dr. Wells as a, “cheap negro loving son of a bitch” (KKK postcard) and went on to tell him to keep his team out of the south. It was a short postcard, disparaging Wells for only wanting to be in the news, not actually caring about the black athletes at IU. Throughout the trip, Whitehead was faced with unequal treatment and the trip as a whole brought unneeded backlash to the team and the University.
“Hoosiers Answer Dixie's Curbs.” Gary Post Tribune, April 7, 1956.
Hudson, Herman. “Spring Break 1956: Sun and Racism .” Indiana Daily Student. April 18, 1997.
McGrotha, Bill. “'Seems Like I've Always Been Alone'- Whitehead.” The Indianapolis Times, March 27, 1956.
"KKK Postcard to President Herman B. Wells." March 29, 1956.
"Dr. Wells Calls Treatment of Negro Outrage." March 27, 1956.
Bash, Harry. "N.A.A.C.P. Letter to President Herman B. Wells." March 22, 1956.
Eddie Whitehead, IU Archives, Image no. P0052290