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The Harvard-Navy lacrosse game of 1941 was an intercollegiate lacrosse game between the Harvard University Crimson and the United States Naval Academy Midshipmen on April 4, 1941. The game was played at Navy's campus in Annapolis, Maryland. Before the game, the Naval Academy's superintendent told Harvard that the Navy team would not play against a racially integrated team. Harvard's team had one black player, Lucien Alexis Jr. Harvard ordered Alexis home and the game went on as scheduled, which Navy won 12-0. Harvard's and the Naval Academy's administrations were criticized for their actions.

Game

On April 3, 1941 the Harvard lacrosse team's 18 players arrived at Annapolis, Maryland to play the Naval Academy in a scheduled intercollegiate match. That day, the Naval Academy's superintendent, Rear Admiral Russell Wilson discovered that Harvard's team included one black player, Lucien Alexis Jr. Wilson informed Harvard's coach, Dick Snibbe, and athletic director, William J. Bingham, that the Navy's squad would not play against a racially integrated team.[1]

Angry at the Navy's stance, Snibbe and Alexis' teammates elected to forfeit the game and return to Harvard. Bingham, however, intervened and ordered the Harvard coach to send Alexis home and play the game. Learning of Bingham's directive, Alexis voluntarily decided to depart and told his teammates that it was his idea. The game was played as scheduled the next day and Navy won 12-0.[2]

Reaction

Harvard's student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, learned of the incident and sharply criticized Bingham and Harvard's administration. The newspaper said of the incident, "Those officials here who asked the negro to return to college should explain the reasons for their actions by which Harvard has kow-towed to Jim-Crowism. Navy bigwigs should also be taught that when this country, this college and the navy itself declare their faith in democratic equality, they mean to practice what they preach."[3] Bingham justified his actions by saying, "We were guests of the Naval Academy and had no choice in the matter. Had the game been played at Cambridge, I would have insisted that he be allowed to participate."[3]

Newspapers in Boston and New York City picked-up the story and criticized Harvard's and the Naval Academy's administrations for their behavior. The Harvard Council for Democracy in Education complained to US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt about the Navy's actions in the incident. In response, the Harvard Corporation told Bingham and the Harvard Athletic Association to inform all future sports competitors that the school would not tolerate further racial discrimination of its student athletes.[4]

One week after the incident, Alexis and the rest of Harvard's lacrosse team traveled to West Point, New York to play a game against the United States Army's Military Academy. In contrast to the reception the Navy had given Harvard's team, at West Point a cordon of cheering cadets, led by black cadets attending the academy, welcomed Alexis and his team.[5]

Later events

The first black student to graduate from the Naval Academy — Wesley A. Brown — graduated in 1949.[6] On May 10, 2008, a dedication ceremony was held on the Naval Academy campus for its newest building, the Wesley Brown Field House.[7][8] Brown participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Jeffrey L. Fowler, and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. Also present were almost one thousand guests.

References

Notes

  1. Gup, Doan, Fisher, p. 133.
  2. Gup, Doan
  3. 3.0 3.1 Fisher, p. 133.
  4. Gup, Doan, Fisher, p. 134.
  5. Doan
  6. Gup
  7. Rucker, Philip (May 11, 2008). "Facility Dedicated to Black Pioneer: D.C. Resident Broke Institute's Color Barrier When He Graduated in 1949". The Washington Post Company. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/10/AR2008051002435.html. Retrieved 2010-02-09.
  8. Green, Patrick (Trident staff) (May 15, 2008). "Wesley Brown Field House Dedicated". Comprint Military Publications ("Naval Academy on dcmilitary.com"). http://www.dcmilitary.com/stories/051508/trident_28234.shtml. Retrieved 2010-02-09.

Sources

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