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Dr. King and the Little Five

A group of black students committed to achieving racial justice through nonviolent means was already in existence at Indiana University Bloomington by the spring of 1968. But the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4 th in Memphis, Tennessee galvanized black activism on campus. Leaders of the Afro-Afro-American Students Association refocused their agenda in homage to King, forming the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.

The committee demanded that the university end racial inequity on campus by recruiting more black students and faculty, waiving entrance exams and creating more scholarships for black students, introducing black studies curriculum, appointing a black human relations officer and refusing to condone fraternities’ and sororities’ racist membership clauses. It was the last point that black activists chose to protest by staging a sit-in at the Little 500, the annual inter-Hellenic bike race.

For 38 hours beginning May 8th, fifty black students sat on the stadium’s field under a makeshift shelter in the rain, while university officials negotiated with national heads of Greek organizations. Ultimately, all but one fraternity agreed to eliminate their discriminatory policy, and the teams–minus one–were allowed to compete. In recent years an all African-American team–Major Taylor United–has been a serious contender in the Little Five, while an all-Latina team, Mezcla, has competed in the women’s race, added in 1988.

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