Fall 2018 the University Archives partnered with Media School professor emeritus Ron Osgood and his new Honors Course Archival Storytelling. His students spent several class sessions in the Archives researching a topic of their choice and crafting a blog post for inclusion here! Some students chose to provide overviews of collections while others dove into specific bits of IU Bloomington history, but all seemed to enjoy the experience. We’ll be sharing these posts in groups over the next few weeks. In order to ensure the student’s voices are heard, Archives staff did minimal editing on these pieces. Thanks to Prof. Osgood and his class for these great pieces!
1954’s Little 500: The Great Tack Race by Ellis Cain
I am not a native Hoosier; I moved to Indiana from Ohio during my last year of elementary school. When my family was preparing for the move, some of our neighbors and friends recommended that we watch the 1979 movie Breaking Away to learn more about the state and culture. Around 6 years later, my brother began studying at IU. During the school breaks, he would share stories about IU and the student culture. One of the events that he shared with me that gave me the deepest impression was the Little 500. I knew a little about it from seeing Breaking Away, but the way he told stories about the race and other festivities was always very intriguing. Now that I am an IU student, it would be expected of me to have seen the Little 500 race, however, I still have not participated in this seminal event. During the first semester of my sophomore year, some of my friends started to talk about training for the Little 500 and tried to recruit people to join their team.
I’ve always been curious about participating in the race, like whether or not I could feasibly participate, but I was more interested in the history of the race and how it all got started. I recently had the chance to research a topic of my choosing at the IU archives, so I chose to look up some of the general history about the race. The idea for the race started out in 1950 after two dormitories had an inconclusive mud fight, so they decided that a six-day bike marathon would be a better test. The Student Foundation director saw the race and decided to sponsor the project the next year as a way to generate revenue, but more importantly as a lasting way to get students interested and involved with the IU Foundation. The first race in 1951 consisted of teams riding on newspaper-boy bikes, with the South Hall Buccaneers winning the race by four minutes. During the next race in 1952, the fraternities protested and boycotted the race because they thought that the independents had too much control over the race. Nothing too noteworthy happened during the 1953 race, however, the 1954 race was quite eventful.
The 1954 race is a landmark race in Little 500 history, as it is the first race where the pits were decorated, as seen above. While this is somewhat monumental as a marker for the evolution of the Little 500 into the race it is today, the story behind the nickname of this race is intriguing. The 1954 race is also known to alumni as the “Great Tack Race,” which comes from an incident where ½ inch carpet tacks were spilled onto the raceway during the race. Up until the 50th lap, there was not much had occurred besides the normal biking and passing. However, at the 50th lap the bikers discovered that there were carpet tacks spread on part of the track when a few teams’ tires popped in that section. This wasn’t too big of a hurdle, as the riders could just stay close to the outside of the track to avoid the tacks. From laps 70 to 71 and 95 to 110, the yellow caution flag was raised to tell the riders to slow their speed and maintain position until the hazard is cleared. While relatively few teams experience problems with the tacks, it wasn’t until the 125th lap where there were over 50 flat tires from the tacks. Below are photos of people changing tires and some of the tacks that were collected.
The officials had to recruit people to help pick up tacks off of the track by hand and with the use of boards. The only problem remaining was replacement tires. A few teams had extra tires and were able to change them and return to the track, but the majority of the teams weren’t as lucky, as there was a tire shortage; there were only six left after the 115th lap. The president of the student organization had to call around to the bike shops in nearby towns and cities to have local businesses deliver tires so that they could continue the race. As you can see below, the race kept going even when they stepped on the track to pick up the tacks.
Even though there was a small, steady stream of tires to the race track, the officials still considered calling off the race and continuing it at a later date. There were some murmurings floating among the officials that there was a group of tack spreaders that spread the carpet tacks before the race started, however, the more reasonable explanation was that the tacks used to fasten decorations on the booths alongside the track spilled when somebody accidentally hit the box. There was never an official investigation into the source of the sabotage, so it still remains a mystery whether the tacks were purposefully placed or accidentally spilled.
Once there were enough tires gathered for all of the teams, the race was back on! Even though workers had tried to clear the tacks from the track, the bikers were still cautious when going around the previously-sabotaged turn. Sigma Nu ended up winning the race, only after their chain had broke in the last turn and they coasted the final stretch.
The Great Tack Race of 1954 is an especially eventful and unforgettable race in the history of the Little 500. While not many of the students who attend the races nowadays are privy to the specific history, it still is worth remembering how the race started and how it transformed over the years into the race it is today. The various scrapbooks and picture collections stored in the IU archives provide an accurate and descriptive glimpse into the different years of IU history. The Little 500 race has continued for over 55 years, so as an integral part of the IU culture, its important to document the current and upcoming races so that the future generations of IU students are able to look back and learn more about the myths and truths that propagate the stories they hear.
The IU 10: Making the Future Brighter by Antonio Verrico
1969 was the last hoorah of the 1960s and was evident as it was decorated with events such as the highly anticipated moon landing and one of the most well-known Rock N’ Roll concerts of the century, Woodstock. This period also involved rising racial tensions between blacks and whites as white and black empowerment groups were becoming more apparent throughout the country. Blacks were still fighting for their racial equality and to be treated as equals. There is one event that took place at Indiana University which involves this fight for equality. This is the 1969 football boycott. I will explain what happened and the effect on IU. In summary, Indiana had just made a Rose Bowl appearance in 1967 with their Coach, John Pont, and finished the 1968 season with a 6-4 record. The future for the team was bright until mid-way through the 1969 season.
“I quit to make the future brighter for my younger brothers and my youngsters. Coach Pont can’t change overnight… he’s 42 years old and he’s set in his ways. But his kids might learn something from this whole business and maybe it’ll change their thinking towards blacks” (Sunday Courier and Press- Evansville, 1970) -Gordon May.
Gordon May and Clarence Price were black football players that were a part of the 10 football players that led the boycott. The rest of the black football players were Larry Highbaugh, Don Silas, Ben Norman, Bob Pernell, Greg Harvey, Mike Adams, Greg Thaxton, and Charlie Murphy. In my research, I found that they were called the “IU 10.” As one can see from their quotes, these players weren’t looking to cause a distraction. They were trying to make a point and create a precedent that blacks should be treated equal. An idea that should be as simple as tea, but, was one of the most complicated issues in America. These young African American men decided to put their careers on the line for something bigger than themselves.
The boycott started in October 1969 before the Indiana and Iowa game on November 9th. According to the IU 10, the poor treatment had been happening for a while before the Iowa game. According to Larry Highbaugh, Coach John Pont promised to give a starting position back after the player came back from an injury, “but when Bob Jones, Don Silas, and Charles Murphy came back from injuries, they were all third string. No one said why” (Sunday Courier and Press- Evansville, 1970). As a football player myself, if this happened to me, I would be very confused and would instantly want to meet with the coach. This is exactly what the IU 10 did as all the players who didn’t get their jobs back were black. They knew they had to stick together if they wanted any solution at all. Clarence Price said “we met with Coach Pont three times before the boycott. After each meeting we felt an accomplishment, but nothing really changed. All we did was talk” (Sunday Courier and Press- Evansville, 1970). From this statement, Coach Pont was possibly just attempting to appease the players, but not serious about helping them. After the IU 10 saw nothing was going to change with Coach Pont, they decided to take a stand and boycotted practice on November 4th. They all went to a player’s dorm room and began talking about the problems they faced while being on the football team. The black athletes eventually came up with 8 grievances that were given to the athletic department and university:
Black Athletes statement of Grievances
- Inadequate medical treatment
- Subjection to many discouraging and degrading remarks
- Inconsistency in administering of disciplinary action
- Inconsistency in administration and coaching staff to look after the physical and mental welfare of blacks to the same extent as their white counterparts
- Making demoralizing suggestions or implications
- Harassment of blacks in front of the squad
- Assumptions made by the coaching staff based on stereotyping of blacks
- Creation of an atmosphere that is mentally depressing and morally discouraging for blacks
The day after the IU 10 boycotted practice, Coach Pont came to talk to the 10 remaining players at a player’s house and told them that they can come back individually, but nothing would change. The players were unsure whether the “nothing would change” phrase was referring to their treatment or the coaching staff. At the time, they believed it was referring to their poor treatment as they had remembered that Coach Pont did nothing the last time the IU 10 came to him. The players decided not to come back that day. After thinking about their futures and how much they missed playing the great game of football, they decided to come back the next day. However, the IU 10 could not come back that season due to Pont’s two-day rule. The rule was that a player would be dismissed for missing two straight practices without an excuse. A few players, Highbaugh, Norman and Thaxton, commented on the rule saying essentially that they were not aware of this rule before that day. According to a Wish TV8 editorial in 1969 (pictured above), Coach Pont said sophomores and juniors who quit the team could come back next spring or fall… if they want to come back.
After word got out about the IU 10 and their grievances, sides were taken by the community and the country on who to support. Coach Pont and the coaching staff or the IU 10. The black students at IU joined the support of the IU 10 in the boycott and called for an investigation of the incident. It even made an impression on the black faculty and administration at IU and other schools as they made a statement that supported the black athletes and called for an investigation of dismissal of the football coaching staff. For example, William D. Smith, Director of Afro-American Studies at University of Cincinnati, wrote in his letter to President Sutton “Now is the time for Indiana university to demonstrate to the world that it is “in tune” … therefore, be sensitive to these problems and all problems of black people” (C268.6 Football Boycott: Letters received 1969-1970). The IU 10’s boycott was reaching a national audience as people saw what these athletes were doing to change the culture and wanted to help in the movement. Furthermore, the responses of such groups did not take long as their statements were submitted on November 10 of 1969, around 4 days after the IU 10 was dismissed from the team. Thus indicating that the issue was very important, and the black community wanted their voice to be heard immediately to support equality for blacks.
The university became extremely conscious of the racial tensions that were caused by the boycott and tried to appease the athletes and community by keeping the athletes on scholarship and delivering statements about the possible solutions to these types of problems. It was a “wake up call” to Indiana university to start making changes in the school’s culture around racial equality and fairness for all. IU proved itself as a school looking to change for the future and be proactive in the fight for equality in March of 1970. It was spring practice and three athletes from the IU 10, Highbuagh, Pernell, and May decided to rejoin the team. After a couple weeks, they were all suspended by Coach Pont because they showed a “negative feeling” towards the IU football program. Coach Pont’s reasoning was based on statements by them in the Indianpolis Star in which the three athletes hinted they would withdraw from the team. Due to the boycott in 1969, IU quickly decided to act and create an official senate for the university. The body passed a bill condemning Coach Pont for what the bill called “an act of overt racism” in suspension of three black athletes. There was no evidence on whether the investigation continued or if Coach Pont was fired for that reason, but he ended his career at IU two years later.
The IU 10 changed the culture at IU forever and led the university to become more aware of racial inequality and the treatment to certain races. The boycott of 1969 gave the black community a story to get behind, so they could voice their opinion and make progress in the fight for equality. This was not a publicity stunt for these young men, but a way for them on a larger scale to get their argument across. Although the boycott did not make a huge immediate impact, the actions that were taken impacted the university and made IU take a proactive stance on racial equality earlier than later. Without the IU 10, the university might not be as socially diverse and receptive as Indiana university is today. In final, I would like to thank the IU 10 for their courage and bravery in their demonstration in 1969. I believe they have made the future brighter for everyone.
Archives note: In 2015, the University announced reconciliation with the “IU 10”