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More Than a Game: New book explores impact of civil rights movement through lens of forgotten school

Basketball is a crucial aspect of the Kentucky identity, and while those outside the state primarily witness the competition as between opposing college or professional teams, high school basketball has formed a core component of the sport’s presence since the establishment of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) Boys Basketball Championship in 1918.

In 1960, that championship would play host to an issue larger than simply basketball, as an all-black team (only the fourth to make it to the “Sweet Sixteen”) was a serious contender. That team represented the Lincoln Institute, Kentucky’s only black boarding school, and their presence spoke volumes about the changing face of education under integration.

In Integrated: The Lincoln Institute, Basketball, and a Vanished Tradition, James W. Miller explores an overlooked topic in America’s struggle for equality. He charts the impact of the civil rights movement in Kentucky as shown through the lens of the Lincoln Institute, an all-black high school famed for both its academic and athletic prowess.

Miller gives readers not only a comprehensive history of the school from its inception to its ultimate unraveling in the face of integration, but also a basketball story, replete with the stories of stars in the making and the administrators who helped them along the way.

The Lincoln Institute formed in the wake of the passage of the Day Law in 1904 which codified segregation in Kentucky. Miller examines its rise to prominence under the steady hand of Whitney Young Sr., the principal of the school for thirty years, and its eventual dissolution in the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Integration was met with staunch resistance from many of the Institute’s families. While it would lead to more equal education for all African American students, it would also mean the end of their school.

The Lincoln Institute and its championship hopes in 1960 were made possible by the courage and skill of many individuals. Beyond Whitney Young Sr., whose leadership in elevating the black community is discussed in detail, Miller also follows students and coaches from their time at Lincoln to, in many cases, the present day.

He discusses John Norman “Slam Bam” Cunningham, a Lincoln standout who would eventually join the Fifth Air Force touring all-star team and see the world from behind a basketball; John McGill, a tennis prodigy who was denied access to the country clubs but would become the first African American starter for an integrated Kentucky high school basketball team; Walter Gilliard, who coached the Lincoln institute Tigers during the 1960 championship season; and Arnold Thurman, a white high school coach who was instrumental in convincing the KHSAA to allow all-black schools to compete against white schools in the early days of integration.

Drawing on personal interviews, oral histories, and a wealth of archival material, Miller documents the story of the Lincoln Institute from its establishment as both an academic and athletic powerhouse for Kentucky’s black community to its ultimate demise. The Lincoln Institute basketball team’s presence in a formerly all-white arena was a symbol of the changing times that would carry through the 1960s, and its story is a narrative of both how far we have come and what had to be sacrificed to get there.

Jim Miller will be in Kentucky for the following events:

· Monday, March 27, 6-7 p.m., Shelby County Public Library, Shelbyville, KY

· Thursday, March 30, 6–7:30 p.m. Filson Historical Society, Louisville, KY

· Saturday, April 22, 9–2 p.m., Southern Kentucky Book Fest, Knicely Convention Center, 2355 Nashville Road, Bowling Green, KY

James W. Miller is the retired athletics director at the University of New Orleans. Prior to his tenure there, he spent eleven years as a newspaper reporter and twenty-one years in the NFL, where he held positions with the New Orleans Saints, Buffalo Bills, and Chicago Bears. He is the author of Where the Water Kept Rising.

Integrated: The Lincoln Institute, Basketball, and a Vanished Tradition
James W. Miller
Publication Date: March 17, 2017 ♦ $29.95 cloth, ISBN: 978-0-8131-6911-8 ♦ ebook available

From University Press of Kentucky

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