Transcript for Giving Voice: Rosemary Anderson Davis
Beckley: Hello and welcome to Giving Voice. For each episode of Giving Voice, we talk to an expert or member of the community to explore deeper an aspect of our main episode. If you haven’t listened to our most recent episode, Crispus Attucks: Challenging Segregation On and Off the Court, go do so now as it’s good context for this conversation. In this episode, I speak with Rosemary Anderson Davis about the history of Geary Roosevelt High School, which faced off against Crispus Attucks in the historic 1955 state championship game. And now giving voice
Beckley: Rosemary, could you give us a little introduction to yourself and your connection with Gary Roosevelt?
Davis: Good afternoon. Pleased to be here. I am Rosemary Anderson Davis and I live in Maryland now. But I am from Indiana. Born in Indianapolis, I grew up in Gary and was a student at Gary Roosevelt from kindergarten through 12th grade. So have very, very deep connections. Also, my father Warren M. Anderson was assistant principal at Geary Roosevelt from 1937 to 61. And then he became principal until he retired in 1970. So you could say Roosevelt was really the at the center of our lives.
Beckley: Yeah. Sounds like it sounds like you’re – moving from Indianapolis to Roosevelt, you kind of had connections to both cities at some point.
Davis: Yes, yes.
Beckley: So could you tell us a little bit about the history of Gary Roosevelt and its place in the wider Gary Community?
Davis: I’d be glad to. Roosevelt school, the main building of Roosevelt High School was built in 1930. But Roosevelt had a history really before the large high school was constructed. It was built in the, I think, and we’ll have to, you know, check that out, it was sort of about 1917 / 1918, but as an elementary school, and then became a high school, I believe, in 1929. It grew at its peak, to have over 3000 students, and was a kindergarten through 12th grade school, unlike Attucks, which was a high school and most of the schools in Indiana, you had the elementary, junior high and senior high. But Roosevelt was planned by William Wirt the original, because Gary, it was a pretty young city, you know, just 1906 was when Gary was founded. And it – the educational system there – was sort of developed by William Wirt. And it was a work study play plan, because most of the residents of Gary were connected to or worked in the steel mills there. And 24 hours a day had long shifts. So the school became very central to the community. The plan was that most activities would be around the school and before school and after school, to keep, take care of the children while their parents were working in the steel mills. So that in terms of, I think, loyalty, and connection and identity to schools, it was very, very strong because so many of us were at the same school from kindergarten through 12th grade. And Roosevelt was pretty much kind of the center of the community. It was really the heart of the community and sort of the symbol of community pride.
Beckley: And I assume that the Gary Roosevelt Panthers basketball team fit right into that.
Davis: It fit right into that, because we are talking about basketball. And we know Hoosier Hysteria, and basketball is the sport in Indiana, and so Gary Roosevelt… What was interesting, too, up until the 1940s, the teams – the black teams, and the white teams – could not play together there were segregated they segregated the teams. So in the 1930s I know my dad, who was a teacher before he became a assistant principal, would travel with the Gary Roosevelt Panthers to North Carolina and other states to play games because they had a very limited number of teams they could play, you know, in Indiana, so by the middle 1940s they integrated all of that and all of the schools could play each other so that made it really special.
Beckley: Yeah, absolutely. We talk a little bit about that in the Attucks episode – how often they had to travel such long distances to play. And not only that, when they were traveling those long distances, they had to contend with segregation and discrimination along the way. They had to plan out their trips so carefully.
Davis: Exactly. In terms of places to eat or just rest stops or places to sleep. Yeah, that was all part of that story. Yeah, absolutely.
Beckley: And would you say? Did that play any part in – I imagine, Gary had a big turnout, coming down to Indianapolis for the State game,
Davis: Oh – believe me. Yes. And I can remember also, when we played at Purdue Lafayette for the semi final four, we went down to Indianapolis. I can’t, I can’t even count the number of buses that traveled. We had a huge active Booster Club of students and families, you know, just everybody in the community. And we were coached, I’ll say it, in terms of how we acted, when we traveled out of town. It was very important that we show dignity and respect and you know, as a as a Black school to that was made from that you have to behave even better than anybody else. We can’t have anybody out of line, you got to behave. So we were very conscious of that with the teachers and the parents on the buses with us. However, it was kind of fun, because we go through the small towns, you know, this is before interstates are now you know, going through all the little small towns, going to Lafayette to Indianapolis on Saturday morning, so the people from the farms and all will be coming into town to shop, whatever, you know, get groceries or hardware store down Main Streets. And we were allowed to roll down the windows and say, you know sing we are the Panthers, mighty mighty Panthers, you know, and that was really it because we had we had the banners on the side of the buses. And they would look at us and they were that was really funny. I remember that the the reactions we got from people in the towns as we would as the this cavalcade you know that buses went through town to go down to Indianapolis. Yeah.
Beckley: So it sounds like there was a lot of anticipation to say the least around the game. Could you talk a little bit about the, the feeling in the community in the lead up to the game? What kind of events happened in the lead up?
Davis: Well, we had lots of pep rallies, as I said, we had a booster club, we had quite a bit of – the whole basketball season was always very exciting. We even you know you we had holiday tournaments during the Christmas holidays, too, that was just city wide. And that would kind of see, okay, which teams do you think are gonna make it to the sectionals, you know, and then the regionals and then the semi finals. So that whole month, the tension just built and built and built. And then the actual fact when we realized that we would be playing Attucks That in itself was just, I think that was the first time anytime from what I read in the nation that you had to black all black high schools competing in a state championship.
Beckley: Yes, and did you – was it a feeling when you went to the – the first game when you were coming to the state tournament, for the weekend, did you feel the result was going to be Attucks versus Roosevelt from the beginning?
Davis: We hoped. We hope so, we didn’t know. But when that happened, it was just amazing. Oh, I mean – because I was sort of on cloud nine. You know that, you just – it was, it was unbelievable. It was . . . and then my family being from I was born in Indianapolis, my mom taught at attics for nine years before I was born. And her two brothers, you know, were Attucks graduates. And I knew Mr. Lane, the principal of Attucks. I played with his daughter because my family was from India now. I was going back and forth to Indianapolis every few weeks, all my life, my childhood. So – because that’s where most of the family was either in Indianapolis or my father was from Terre Haute. So, we were always you know, downstate, as we would call it, so that was just, it was incredible that that happened and that came together.
Beckley: And after the game, I know obviously the result wasn’t exactly what you all wanted, but
Davis: Yeah, I just watched it again and again and could be sad again, you know, because they it wasn’t what we want. But we I think we were very good losers. You know, we were happy for Attucks and happy for the fact that the two teams did were able to, you know, come together. And there was a lot of good sportsmanship, I think. In terms of how, you know how we responded, even my friends and I started this Oh, not at the tournament, but before that, we would have moments of prayer during the game and even get down there on the bleachers. And I don’t know how…somebody would lead us, you know, to pray that our team won. Well, it didn’t, didn’t always happen. And it certainly didn’t happen that day. But we put all of our emotions were into it. And it was interesting – I think the actors remember the Fieldhouse was filled to the rafters. And the Attucks fans and Roosevelt fans were – were not ruckus – but weere excited and cheering, etc. A lot. But the, as I recall, the rest of the crowd, and it was full, was really pretty quiet. You know, and I kind of think the white community was – this was their sport. I mean, you would – the movie Hoosiers, you know, which was for the 1954 season, the year right before. This was their sport, and that the two, we had the three Black high schools in Lincoln, Attucks, and Roosevelt, in Lincoln in Evansville, the fact that this had actually happened and that these two teams were competing against each other people were kind of stunned and shocked. So I don’t remember hearing much cheering from the rest of the crowd. They were intent and watching the game because there was a lot of good good plays and all in the game. But most of the cheering either came from the Attucks side or the Roosevelt side.
Beckley: Yeah, that’s interesting. Kind of in relation to that. Did you feel any sense of scrutiny? Because it was to black teams, or anything of that sort when you were there? Did you notice anything that kind of felt off?
Davis: Well, we are so we’re so you know, we were just so excited about being there. And we had been really programmed, and the idea that there would be no problems, there would be no rockers behavior. And well, you could tell the Attucks fans and the Roosevelt fans had had that instilled in them so much, that there just wasn’t any reason for you know…that people were I think, as I said, watching, but that No, I didn’t. It was it was just I think people were just stunned that that was happening. Yeah, yeah.
Beckley: Yeah, it’s – a book I read in preparation for the podcast, kind of talked framed as a shift in Indiana basketball, from the year before you had Milan, a small rural community. You know, the Milan, Milan, Miracle – all white. And then the very next year, you have to Black teams facing each other. It was almost a cosmic shift in Indiana Basketball/
Davis: Yes. And that takes a while to kind of digest – to take that in, you just sort of have to sit back and take that in, you know, so that yeah, that is kind of the feeling I saw there. But
Beckley: Could you tell me your favorite memory from that weekend?
Davis: Well, I guess it was the af – the close of the afternoon game, when you knew that, indeed, Attucks and Roosevelt were going to compete that evening. We were just sort of on cloud nine the fact that that was happening – just you don’t have a few hours for that to sink in. That that was that that was actually going that – that was going to come about you know when you now the now I’m 83 now so we’re talking about something I would have had my what 65th reunion from Roosevelt few years ago, so this has been a long time, but, uh, I think it was the fact that this was actually happening and that these two teams were so good and you know, had come had come so far. And there was just a lot of pride. I just felt a lot, a lot of pride, a lot of pride for both teams.
Beckley: I’m sure. I can’t imagine especially being aware, as you must have been, of the the history of it – maybe not that this was the first time in the nation that this happened. But you were at least certainly aware that this was kind of a monumental moment in Indiana basketball history.
Davis: It was and then too, because my parents, you know, were from Indiana, my dad had finished Wiley High School in Terre Haute and then went on to Indiana State for his undergraduate work and my mom had finished Shortridge before Attucks was built, see, she finished Shortridge in 1922, before there was a Black high school and then she went away to college and grad school and then came back to teach at Attucks in like 1929 – yeah, 1929. So the fact that we now had these two teams – you know, with this, the family history of loving Indiana and loving basketball, and I particularly felt so happy for my dad, that he had been an athlete in high school and he won some kind of award in high school as a scholar athlete. And then he won the scholar athlete trophy when he finished Indiana State back in 1927. So this meant so much to him, for – and he always taught in Indiana, either teacher or principal, whatever. So just to see him and for him to live. And and he was really close to the team. And you know, because it was this, Roosevelt was like a family. With many times you had peoples now you’ve got three and four generations of students that now Roosevelt closed, just you know, 19, I mean, in 2020, after almost 100 years that you had generation after generation of families that had gone to Roosevelt were active and loved Roosevelt so much. So to see, I’m just so glad that he was able to be there and be a part of it. Then to top it off, we’re talking about ‘55. But he became principal in 1961. And then he retired in ‘70. And ’68, Roosevelt won the state championship. So he was able to be there at ‘55 and then be there as principal in ‘68 when it came again, and actually one I was talking to my first cousin who was a graduate of Shortridge and then was the administrator at Indiana University until a few years ago, when he retired, I called him the other day, because I’m doing all this history, and he said he sat with my dad at the ‘68 tournament. And I was living in Minnesota then, you know, this is years later, 13 years later. And he said he’ll never forget, he said Uncle Warren was so excited. He said go on down when they asked the principal when you know, they go on down onto the field before we know when they cut the basket and all. And she he said he just was done and walking on the air, you know, on air. He was so excited to be there for both of those tournaments for 55 and for 68.
Beckley: So yeah, it must have been amazing to kind of come full circle.
Davis: Exactly. Exactly.
Beckley: Could you talk a little bit about the legacy that Gary Roosevelt has in the community. I know you don’t live there anymore…
Davis: I get stayed active. I go back a lot. I’m very, you know, close to a lot of my friends. And it – unfortunately, as Gary’s population, you know, has declined and as the steel meals don’t need, you know, it’s the part of that whole rust belt area in Northwest Indiana and Illinois, etc. It’s just been very sad to see the population decline. And then the school – we only have one high school and Gary now is down and we had eight high schools. I think they were I think I read and I have to check this because I’m doing all this research and some things that I think Gary had a population of like over 150,000 in 1970. And now I think the population is around 69,000. So it’s lost like 100,000 people. And that yeah, that that’s very sad. So, but the Roosevelt, loyalty and legacy is strong. The alumni is very, very strong. And now are hoping that they can preserve the structure. The building. Because it’s a beautiful, beautiful it was a beautiful, beautiful campus look like a college it was whatever I think they called it, Colonial Revival building – beautiful three buildings and lots of park like campus around it very well kept. No one ever stepped on the grass. You did not have any litter or paper on anything. Never any graffiti. The janitors and custodial staff kept immaculate, you know, they were scrubbing the floor and the wall, just all it was it was just beautifully, beautifully maintained. And it was located in the center of the Black community, which was pretty segregated back then. And fortunately was located kind of at the heart of the center of the community and everything that was your life. We didn’t have the distractions or so many of you know, TV wasn’t that big then and that you did everything at school, you did your – you had drama, we had class plays, you had concert band, you had orchestra, you had several glee clubs. You had Y teams you had language clubs. There was night school for adults who did not have high school education. And my dad used to be when I was a little girl he was in charge of night school. So Monday and Wednesday night – we lived three blocks from school – he’d go back, he’d come home for dinner, go right back, because he was in charge of night school and summer school and we had an indoor swimming pool. So we every morning in the summertime, we spent the mornings at the pool in school getting swimming lessons. So just, you name it. That was the center of all of you as the dances – folk dance. I remember when the governor came Governor Shricker, I believe, from 1949 to 53. I remember when he came to visit the school.
Beckley: Wow, it sounds like it was more of a community center and less of a school.
Davis: It was all it was. Yeah, but and you had over 3000 students. Yeah, so it was bigger than some college, it was bigger than my college campus only hit to that. So. And the other thing that I think makes makes it kind of I’ve been thinking about this distinguishing it from Attucks, which had a very rich history too. And as I said, I’m very familiar with that, because so many my family members and my mom taught there and we knew the principal that you would go to school 36, school 41, or whatever it was numbered names, then, the elementary schools. And then you come to Attucks, which did not have this huge campus to hit the building. But it wasn’t like you didn’t have the land to be able to have a huge campus for high school. But because you had been at Roosevelt since kindergarten, by the time you were fifth and sixth grade, you wanted to go to the basketball – and you couldn’t get a ticket and your parents were like when you wanted to go to the basketball game, wanted to go to the school plays, you look up to those people in high school. And so when you were ninth grade, you felt, “I have arrived. And now I have the privilege of being able to get a ticket to go to the jazz concert or the basketball game or whatever.” So you will and you really looked up to the those above you and then big families, the older brothers and sisters would kind of lord it over their younger brothers or sisters that you can’t do this, you know, you have to wait you’re not ready to be able to do that. So, it was privilege to be able to to be part of the of the high school and be in the Latin club or the French club or the Spanish club and all of that.
Beckley: That’s amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your recollections about this. And if there’s anything else that you think kind of stands out, particularly to you about the state tournament or Roseville in general, I’d love to hear it.
Davis: Well, just to talk a little bit about the academics to now, we’ve been talking about sports. So you were expected to excel academically as well as in sports and athletically. And so that was something the teachers were always encouraging the athletes to get your work done, you got to be able to be able to play you got to have what, a C average or something. So the end the teachers gave so much of themselves and put so much of themselves into the students because I couldn’t teach other places either. You know, we had PhDs and wonderfully trained teachers who, and once Roosevelt integrated, Purdue, Indiana, University of Cincinnati, many major universities – and my dad was principal at the time when that was happening – and he started losing some of his best teachers, because they were well trained PhDs, and they went on to, you know, teach at the university level. But we were fortunate, when I was there, that they were still there. So I got the benefit of their, of their expertise. And so many of us went from there and have, you know, just done very, very well throughout, you know, in their professions.
Beckley: Yeah. And that has to be another legacy of Roosevelt is all these kids growing up and having this wonderful, high-class education, and then going out in the world and earning high, advanced degrees and
Davis: Oh yea, doctors, lawyers, engineers, diplomats, generals, the head pilot for Delta Airlines was the class ahead of me and when I mean, just, you name it just all over the world. They’ve done great, and they’re still very loyal, very loyal to the school and to what it meant, in their lives.
Beckley: Well, thank you so much for joining me today. And I hope that we get to talk about this further in the future.
Davis: I’d like that. Thank you so much.
Beckley: Thanks again to Rosemary Anderson Davis for taking time to speak with me. It was a pleasure to hear about your memories of the game. You can see a transcript of this interview on our website, podcast.history.in.gov. And remember to rate review and subscribe to talking Hoosier history wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening!
Show Notes for Giving Voice: Rosemary Anderson Davis
Learn more about the history of Gary Roosevelt online here.
More sources about the history of Gary Roosevelt High School:
Tiffany Tolbert, “Sooner or Later:” The Creation of Gary’s Roosevelt High School, Traces, Summer 2016, 28-37.
“The School System of Gary, Indiana,” in A Voice Crying in the Wilderness: The Memoirs of Jacob L. Reddix (Jackson, Miss., 1974)
And Ronald Cohen’s Children of the Mill (his is a great resource on educational institutions and the history of Gary)