The Walter Sillers Coliseum, a 3,000-seat brick arena, has been the basketball mecca of Delta State University since it was built in 1960. At that time, Delta State, today a public university with just over 2,500 students in Cleveland, Miss., was a white-only institution.
But it was a Black woman who made the coliseum famous. In 1973, Lusia “Lucy” Harris played her first game of college basketball as the only Black player on her team. The coliseum was Ms. Harris’s home court when she led the Lady Statesmen to three consecutive national championships. It was where she came home with a silver medal after becoming the first female Olympian ever to score a basket in 1976. It was where she worked as an assistant coach when she turned down the N.B.A., which made history when the New Orleans Jazz drafted her (the first and only time a woman was officially drafted).
Despite all that, if you traveled to Cleveland to visit the coliseum, you might think Lucy Harris never existed. You’d pass a towering bronze statue of her coach, Margaret Wade, who was white and never won a national championship without Ms. Harris. You’d pass a plaque in the lobby dedicating the building to Walter Sillers, who, as the longtime speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, fought tooth and nail to keep Black students out of Delta State. And finally, you’d arrive at the hardwood itself, which the university dedicated in 2015 to Lloyd Clark, the white high school coach it hired as head coach instead of Ms. Harris.
The half-century omission of Lucy Harris’s legacy from Delta State’s campus and from the American consciousness at large reveals that there has never been a shortage of compelling female — and in particular Black female — athletic superstars. Their names just weren’t etched in stone like so many men’s were.