O'Neil: A game that should not be forgotten

December, 13, 2012
12/13/12
12:33
PM ET

The significance was not lost in the moment. When Jerry Harkness extended his hand to Joe Dan Gold before the ball was tipped, the glare of the popping flashbulbs nearly blinded both men.

People understood then what was happening, what it meant that Gold, a white basketball player from Mississippi State, was shaking hands with Harkness, an African-American player from Loyola (Ill.) on a March day in 1963 in East Lansing, Mich.

Just five months earlier, with U.S. marshals and federal troops on hand to quell the rioting, James Meredith enrolled at the University of Mississippi, integrating the school only 90 miles from MSU's campus.

Less than a month after the game, Martin Luther King Jr. would write his famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," an influential essay that spread across the nation.

In between the two seminal moments in civil rights history, a team from Starkville snuck out of town, defying a state injunction to play a basketball game against a team with a largely African-American roster.

Click here to read the rest of Dana O'Neil's story.

Dana O'Neil | email

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