Oscar Robertson and his nine surviving teammates from the 1955 Indianapolis Crispus Attucks High School basketball team -- the first all-black team to win a state title in any sport, anywhere in the country -- will be honored this Saturday, May 23, as Grand Marshals of the Indianapolis 500 Festival parade. And they will be celebrated in a manner denied to them 60 years ago.
Prior to 1955, the team that won the state basketball title took a ride on a fire truck around Indianapolis landmark Monument Circle, and then celebrated downtown.
Because Indianapolis officials did not want to honor a black team in such fashion -- their excuse was that they feared rioting would break out – the 1955 Attucks champions were driven once around Monument Circle and then hustled out to the black neighborhood for a bonfire and pep rally.
The same thing happened the following year when Attucks went undefeated and won its second consecutive state title, capping a 45-game win streak.
Now, sixty years later, the groundbreaking 1955 Attucks team will finally get its downtown celebration.
For the first time in the history of the Indianapolis 500 Festival Parade, there will be a planned stop downtown so the '55 Attucks team and its cheerleaders can have the celebration they were denied 60 years ago. (Its coaches, Ray Crowe and Albert Spurlock, are deceased.)
“This is a celebration 60 years in the making - not just for this team, but for our community,” said Bob Bryant, president and CEO of the 500 Festival. “It is truly an honor to host this accomplished group of trailblazers. We could not be more proud to deliver a world-class celebration for the team.”
Members of the 1955 Attucks team riding in the IPL 500 Festival Parade include Lavern Benson, James Enoch, John Gipson, Bill Hampton, Albert Maxey, Willie Merriweather, Shedrick Mitchell, Henry Robertson and Oscar Robertson. Stanford Patton is unable to attend. The Festival is underwriting the travel expenses of the seven players who live elsewhere than Indianapolis.
This will be a national media story for its human interest angle as well as the sports angle. ESPN has already committed to coverage, and the parade's telecast originated by NBC affiliate WTHR in Indianapolis will be telecast nationwide by NBC Sports.
The following clips will give you further background information on The Big O’s Indianapolis boyhood and the Attucks team.