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Before vacation, race equality on Harvard athletic teams appeared to be a settled issue. The unobtrusive decision of the H. A. A. to let no racial prejudice affect the makeup of any Harvard team seemed to be the only fair and liberal solution to the problem, and for this decision the H. A. A. was to be congratulated. Now, however, the vacation is over, the decision has been reversed, and the H. A. A. should be severely criticized for its stand.
The race problem was first raised here this year by the presence of a negro on a team that regularly makes a spring trip as far as south as Maryland. That trip has been made, as usual, and with unhappy consequences. In the first game, against the University of Pennsylvania, the negro played without causing so much as a murmur. In the second game, against the University of Maryland, the student was at first not allowed to play. Administration officials hemmed and hawed and thought up every possible excuse, but the player finally competed, and, incidentally, won the respect of both players and spectators alike. The third game was against the United States Naval Academy. In an unparalleled example of prejudice and narrow-mindedness, administration officials at Annapolis refused to let the negro play against the Navy team.
The whole incident was of course couched in honeyed, diplomatic terms. One of the officials offered the gratuitous advice, "We really treat the negroes pretty well down here, you know. Why, I even have one working around the house." And without fail, every one of the officials prefaced his remarks by protesting: "Not that I have any prejudice against colored people or anything like that..." Yet, in spite of what he and his associates said, Admiral Willson, superintendent of the Academy, refused to let the negro play. "We are afraid of race riots in the town," they melodramatically asserted.
So the upshot of it all was that the Harvard team was offered a "choice" of three courses: either the team would voluntarily bench the colored player, or Navy would forfeit the game if Harvard insisted on his playing, or Willson would call up Harvard's officials and let them make the decision. The last alternative was taken, and a few hours later a telegram came requesting the negro not to play.
But Admiral Willson was not yet satisfied. As if the present decision were not enough, he told the manager of the Harvard team that from now on there should be a gentlemen's agreement that this college would never let a negro play against a Navy team.
The implications of the incident are all too obvious. Annapolis officials ought to have been reminded that Harvard is not accustomed to having such alternatives offered to it by any man, even if he is one of the three full admirals in the United States Navy. Moreover, those officials here who asked the negro to return to college should explain the reasons for their action, by which Harvard has kowtowed to intolerant Jimcrowism. Finally, Navy bigwigs should 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. For it was not the students at Annapolis who wanted the negro to go. Indeed, they told the Harvard players exactly the contrary. Rather it is Admiral Willson and Commander Perry, director of Athletics at Annapolis, and the remaining officials down there, who had better start exhibiting the American way instead of talking about it.
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