HBCU Basketball Team Gets White House Visit Decades After Championship Win

Photo: White House

An HBCU basketball team finally got to visit the White House after winning the national championship over 60 years ago.

According to Vice President Kamala Harris, Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State University men's basketball made history in 1957 when they became the first HBCU team to win a national championship. The Tennessee A&I Tigers would go on to also become the first college team to win three back-to-back national titles, Harris said.

Surviving members of the team — Dick Barnett, George Finley, Ernest Jones, Henry Carlton, Robert Clark, and Ron Hamilton — were invited to the White House for the first time to commemorate their historic achievement. On Friday (April 5), Harris hosted a private ceremony for the Tigers in the Roosevelt Room where she paid homage to the team's victories.

The Tigers also received a tour around the White House and gifted Harris a custom jersey following the ceremony.

“There’s so much that we have accomplished as a nation because of the heroes like those that I’m looking at right now,” Harris said. “I, like so many of us, stand on your broad shoulders, each one of you.”

The Tennessee A&I Tigers faced several hardships amid their victories. In 1957, the team was subjected to a bomb threat as they were returning home on a plane following their win at the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) championship game, according to CBS.

It also took decades for the Tigers to be recognized in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The team was inducted in 2019 following a years-long push covered in the PBS documentary “The Dream Whisperer.”

Congressional Representative Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY ) led a letter in January that asked President Joe Biden to invite the surviving members of the 1957-1959 Tennessee A&I Tigers Men’s Basketball Team to the White House.

"I am pleased that my request has been honored, and that the Tennessee Tigers enjoyed a long overdue commemoration to honor their historic accomplishments,” Meeks said in a statement. “The Tennessee A&I Tigers men’s basketball team broke barriers on the court while fighting injustice off it.

Finley said the White House visit was the "greatest day of my life."

“I thought this would never take place,” the former basketball player said. “[Winning] the championship was big, but it wasn’t as big as being here with [Vice President] Harris today."

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