Indiana University Slips Up in an Attempt to Right a Wrong

The Ora Wildermuth Intramural Center on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington was built in 1971. It was named after a man who served as chair of the university’s board of trustees from 1938 to 1949. He died in 1964.

In 2006 some old letters written by Wildermuth were discovered. In a 1945 letter to a university administrator, Wildermuth wrote, “I am and shall always remain absolutely and utterly opposed to social intermingling of the colored race with the white.”

In a second letter that Wildermuth wrote to university president Herman B. Welles in 1948, he stated, “The average of the black race as to intelligence, economic status, and industry is so far below the white average that it seems to me futile to build up hope for a great future.”

Last fall the All University Committee on Names recommended to the board of trustees that the building be renamed the William L. Garrett-Ora L. Wildermuth Fieldhouse. Garrett was the first African American to play intercollegiate basketball for Indiana University. Throughout his collegiate career, he suffered racial indignities from opposing fans and players. Garrett died in 1974 at the age of 45.

Last month the trustees agreed to the name change. But Betty Garrett, the widow of the former Indiana basketball star, was not consulted. When she heard about the change, she demanded that her husband not be “disgraced by having his name by Wildermuth’s.”

The university quickly rescinded its decision to change the name of the building.