Date of Award

Spring 5-2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Committee Chair

Dr. David R. Davies

Committee Chair Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Committee Member 2

Dr. Gene Wiggins

Committee Member 2 Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Committee Member 3

Dr. Kim LeDuff

Committee Member 3 Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Committee Member 4

Dr. Cheryl Jenkins

Committee Member 4 Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Committee Member 5

Dr. Christopher Campbell

Committee Member 5 Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Abstract

During the civil rights era, Mississippi was cloaked in the hateful embrace of the Closed Society, historian James Silver’s description of the white caste systems that used State’s Rights to enforce segregation and promote the subservient treatment of blacks. Surprisingly, challenges from Mississippi’s college basketball courts brought into question the validity of the Closed Society and its unwritten law, a gentleman’s agreement that prevented college teams in the Magnolia State from playing against integrated foes. Led by Mississippi State University’s (MSU) basketball team, which won four Southeastern Conference championships in a five-year span, the newspapers in Mississippi often debated the legitimacy of MSU’s claims to a trip to the integrated NCAA national championship tournament with some reporters, namely Jimmy Ward of the Jackson Daily News, damning the Starkville-five for their attempted violation of the state’s white-dominated social structure. Others, such as Jimmie McDowell of the Jackson State Times, emerged from the sports desk as a bold and progressive voice in the annals of Mississippi journalism. By the time MSU added its first black basketball players in 1971, the Closed Society had loosened its grip on Mississippi’s newspapers as evident in the absence of race-based descriptions and identifications of these brave athletes. This dissertation examines the role Mississippi’s journalists played, from 1955 through 1973, in maintaining segregated college basketball in the state and its reaction to the integration of basketball teams at University of Southern Mississippi, the University of Mississippi, and Mississippi State University. In total, the press either condemned any efforts to introduce social equality in Mississippi’s athletic avenues, remained silent, or supported such efforts in the name of national basketball dominance.

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