Report leaves ambiguity about Slats Gill’s legacy on race
CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) — Oregon State University is considering whether to change the names of four campus buildings that some students believe are named for racists.
One is Gill Coliseum, home of the Oregon State basketball teams.
The university released a historical review Monday that provides ammunition for supporters and critics of the building’s namesake — former men’s basketball coach Amory “Slats” Gill, the Gazette-Times reported.
Gill had only one black player during his tenure from 1928 to 1964, a walk-on for part of a season. But the report says there’s evidence he tried to recruit black players. The report, written by Oregon State professors Marisa Chappell and Dwaine Plaza, concludes the evidence is incomplete and ambiguous, but generally points to a conclusion that Gill did not deliberately keep the team segregated.
“We have no evidence that Gill made derogatory statements about African Americans or opposed having black players on the OSU basketball team,” the report states. “We do have evidence that he tried to recruit several black players but was unsuccessful.”
A public discussion is scheduled for Thursday night at the university. Gill Coliseum was unofficially named for Gill when it was built in 1949, and officially so after his death in 1966.
The report states controversy arose around Gill in 1963, when an Oregon state senator introduced a bill to prevent Oregon universities from playing against the University of Mississippi, where segregationists protested the enrollment of James Meredith, the school’s first black student.
The legislator tabled the bill after realizing Oregon State never had a black basketball player. Gill’s response in the campus newspaper: “I wish that these people who are making such charges would help us get a Negro on our basketball team that would measure up to our current players.”
The report notes that recruiting was more regional at the time, and Oregon had a small black population.
Two black players Gill tried to recruit in the early 1960s were Norm Monroe, a track athlete at Oregon State, and Charlie White, a Californian.
Monroe only practiced for part of a season before leaving the squad. White became the team’s first black scholarship player the year after Gill retired as basketball coach.
“We have evidence that Corvallis was a difficult place for African Americans in the 1960s, which would help explain some of Gill’s difficulty attracting black players,” the report states. “Both Charlie White and Norm Monroe described feeling isolated and facing consistent racism and hostility at OSU and in Corvallis.”
The report, however, also quotes White talking about feeling uncomfortable during a recruiting visit from Gill. He said Gill didn’t make eye contact and was more interested in talking to his white roommate.
“Charlie White’s recollections about Gill were not positive, but it is unclear if that uneasiness related specifically to race,” the report said.
No interviewees remembered Gill ever discussing civil rights or racial politics. When Gill’s team lost to University of San Francisco in the 1955 NCAA tournament, Gill singled out Bill Russell, who is black, as the key difference between the teams.
Information from: Gazette-Times, http://www.gtconnect.com