Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Harry N. Sykes, September 28, 2004

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:02 - Sykes' early years

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Partial Transcript: This is an interview with Mr. Harry Sykes for the African American High School Athletics Project for the University of Kentucky oral history program.

Segment Synopsis: Harry N. Sykes talks about his family life from Mississippi to the migration north to Illinois during World War II. He goes into details about his education once in Illinois, and excelling after having only 6 years of education in Mississippi.

Keywords: 13 children (12 siblings); 4 months of school; Completed 6th grade; High schools; Jobs up north due to WWII; Left Mississippi in 1943 for Illinois; Making cans at 72 cents per hour; Migration north; One-room schools; School segregation; Starkville (Miss.); Worked and went to school

Subjects: Athletes; Basketball; Education; Employment; Rural schools.; Segregation in education.

00:10:59 - After World War II

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Partial Transcript: So then came what may be considered a obstacle--

Segment Synopsis: Sykes talks about how he came to play basketball in high school after WWII ended and in pickup games in Chicago during the summers. The school and the high school basketball team were integrated. He went on to play at K-State (Kentucky State University).

Keywords: Basketball scholarship at K-State; Lost job; Pickup games during the day at the YMCA; Playing on the basketball team; Schools integrated in Illinois; WWII; WWII ended; Wall of Fame at his high school; Worked full-time on the night shift during the summer

Subjects: Athletes; Basketball; Employment; Kentucky State University; Mathematics; National Council of the Young Men's Christian Associations of the United States of America; Scholarship; World War, 1939-1945

00:18:42 - The end of his college years / Harlem Globetrotters basketball team / segregation in sports

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Partial Transcript: And, uh, when, when I left--was ready to graduate from Kentucky State, the program called for practice teaching in your major field.

Segment Synopsis: Sykes talks about his final year of college, student teaching, and going to see Harlem Globetrotters v. Kansas City Stars basketball games in Louisville, Kentucky. One night he ended up playing with the Kansas team. After the game, he got an offer to play for the Globetrotters.

Keywords: Got offer to play with Globetrotters; Played the whole game on opponent's team; Segregation and playing for the Globetrotters; Went to Globetrotters game in Louisville with girlfriend

Subjects: Basketball; Basketball players.; Harlem Globetrotters--History; Louisville (Ky.); Segregation in sports; Student teaching

00:27:54 - Playing for the Harlem Globetrotters / the NBA and African American players

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Partial Transcript: You asked me how big was, uh, was the Globetrotters? Well, the Globetrotters, uh, were the first team that had--played year round.

Segment Synopsis: Sykes talks about the history of the Harlem Globetrotters and the years that he played with them, and the two movies made about the team. He also talks about the early days of the NBA and African American players.

Keywords: "Go Man Go"; "Harlem Globetrotters"; Films; Movies; NBA; Year round basketball

Subjects: African Americans; Basketball; Dandridge, Dorothy, 1922-1965; Harlem Globetrotters--History; National Basketball Association; Race relations; Saperstein, Abe

00:37:49 - Life after playing basketball, 1954 / Dunbar teacher and basketball teams

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Partial Transcript: After you were done playing for the Globetrotters, what did you do then?

Segment Synopsis: Sykes talks about his switch from playing with the Globetrotters to teaching math at Dunbar High School in Lexington, and developing the Jr. High basketball team. He also talks about the fallout of school segregation in Lexington.

Keywords: Developed junior high basketball team; Dunbar High School math teacher; Played two years with the Globetrotters; Sanford Roach; School segregation; Wife and two children

Subjects: African American basketball coaches; Education; Family; Segregation in education--Kentucky

00:47:02 - Segregated high school athletic associations in Kentucky / basketball game biases and prejudice

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Partial Transcript: And so, all of the, uh, all of the schools the pr, pr, probably did away with the athletic association because all the black schools then joined the, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.

Segment Synopsis: Sykes talks about the segregation in basketball, and the rules that hampered his Dunbar team, but didn't keep them from winning championships.

Keywords: African American players; Black school athletic league in Kentucky; Dunbar High School was avoided before and after segregation; Kentucky Bluegrass Junior High School Athletic Association; Kentucky High School Athletic League (KHSAL)

Subjects: Basketball players.; Basketball--Kentucky; Dunbar High School (Lexington, Ky.); Segregation--Basketball

00:53:10 - Former players coached by Harry N. Sykes / value of education / bowling alley for Blacks in Lexington

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Partial Transcript: One of my players wa, was, uh, Bobbie Washington.

Segment Synopsis: Sykes talks about some of his former players. He also talks about his education and his message of education to his basketball players.

Keywords: Advance education; Education and recreation; NBA players

Subjects: Basketball; Basketball players.; Bowling; Education; Mathematics--Study and teaching; National Basketball Association

01:03:10 - The fight to become a city commissioner

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Partial Transcript: But be--in the meantime, during that two year span, from '62 to '64, I was approached t--says, uh, "You, you, you very popular," said, "Why don't you run for city commissioner?"

Segment Synopsis: Sykes talks about the struggle he had to become a candidate for the Lexington City Commission due to racism.

Keywords: "Colored Notes"; Opposition from local newspaper editor; Running for city commissioner

Subjects: Elections; Political action; Political campaigns--Kentucky; Politicians; Race discrimination--Kentucky

01:10:49 - Campaign issues: employment, housing, and public accommodations for African Americans

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Partial Transcript: The only outlet for Negroes in terms of employment, I think, University of K--(coughs)--University of Kentucky.

Segment Synopsis: Sykes talks about the discrimination toward African Americans and his efforts to change things.

Keywords: Garbage trucks; Human rights; Human rights efforts in Lexington; Janitors; Jobs other than teaching

Subjects: African Americans--Employment--Kentucky; Discrimination in housing; Race relations; University of Kentucky