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IU renames old fieldhouse after basketball trailblazer Bill Garrett

With Ora Wildermuth’s name long gone, Indiana moves to recognize one of its greats

Georgia Southern v Indiana Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Ora Wildermuth was an Indiana graduate, a campus fundraiser and a former IU trustee. He was also a racist.

In 1948, for example, Wildermuth wrote to former IU President Herman B Wells to express his dumber-than-dogshit opinion that “The average of the (black) race as to intelligence, economic status and industry is so far below the white average that it seems to me futile to build up hope for a great future.”

Yeah, to put it politely, fuck that guy — which is basically what Indiana’s Board of Trustees said nearly two years ago, when the group (finally) decided to remove Wildermuth’s name from the Bloomington campus’ intramural center. For years, campus activists had called on the university to denounce Wildermuth and strip his name from the former basketball fieldhouse. Eventually, IU listened.

And this week, the university (finally) went a step further.

Indiana President Michael A. McRobbie (finally) announced Friday that the university’s board of trustees approved a resolution to rename the intramural center after Hoosier legend Bill Garrett, who broke the Big Ten basketball color barrier the same year that Wildermuth penned his absolutely insane, bigoted ramblings to Wells.

Garrett, who died of a heart attack in 1974 at the age of 45, was an impactful leader on and off the court. He led Shelbyville High School to the 1947 state title, setting the tournament scoring record in the process. In those days, however, Big Ten coaches had a gentlemen’s agreement to keep black athletes from playing basketball, among other sports. But in Garrett, the 1947 Indiana Mr. Basketball award winner, IU coach Branch McCracken saw an opportunity to begin creating a more equitable landscape.

Garrett starred in Bloomington, pacing the Hoosiers in scoring and rebounding for three years. During the 1951 season, Garrett earned IU’s most valuable player honors, along with recognition on the All-Big Ten and All-American lists for leading Indiana to a 19-3 record and a No. 2 national ranking. Most importantly, as the Bloomington Herald-Times once described, Garrett became “the catalyst for widespread integration of the sport.” With the esteemed Garrett proudly representing Indiana University, college basketball was forever changed.

The movement to rename the building where Garrett played began more than a decade ago, and in 2017, a state historical marker was (finally) placed outside the facility that reads:

“Segregation was rampant when African American Bill Garrett led Shelbyville to 1947 state high school basketball title. At the time, an unwritten rule barred blacks from Big Ten basketball. Faburn DeFrantz and Indianapolis black leaders worked with IU president Herman B Wells to give Garrett a chance at IU. Garrett’s 1948 varsity debut directly challenged Big Ten ban. Garrett’s IU years saw parts of campus desegregated, but in the Big Ten he never played with or against another black player. He graduated in 1951 as an All-American, with IU’s career scoring record. His achievements helped create opportunities for other black players in the Midwest. Named coach at Indianapolis Crispus Attucks in 1957, his team won the 1959 state title.”

Around the time the marker was unveiled, McRobbie appointed a six-person panel to determine what to do about the Wildermuth name. Ultimately, after weighing both Wildermuth’s contributions to the university community and his racist views, that group recommended that the school (finally) strip Wildermuth’s name.

“These views are, by the standards upheld by Indiana University today, and even those upheld by the university in the 1940s, utterly deplorable and disgraceful,” McRobbie said in 2018, per The Herald-Times.

With Wildermuth’s name removed, IU, which installed a statue of Garrett inside Assembly Hall in 2017, decided on a new dedication. As of Friday, the building that housed Indiana basketball from 1928 to 1960 will (finally) be known as the Bill Garrett Fieldhouse.