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An Overlooked Championship Team’s Final Stop: The White House

When Vice President Kamala Harris greeted Dick Barnett on Friday, he was concise in his response.

“Finally.”

At long last, six surviving members of the all-Black Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State University in Nashville visited the White House, the culmination of a decades-long effort, led by Mr. Barnett, for recognition.

The Tennessee A&I Tigers were the first team from a historically Black college or university to win any national championship, and the first college team to win three back-to-back championships, in 1957, 1958 and 1959. The former teammates — Mr. Barnett, George Finley, Ernest Jones, Henry Carlton, Robert Clark and Ron Hamilton — took part in a private ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House with Ms. Harris, who paid tribute to the team during a round-table discussion.

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

The Tennessee A&I Tigers in 1957.Credit…Live Star Entertainment
Henry Carlton stands outside the White House on Friday with, seated from left, Robert Clark, Ernest Jones, George Finley, Ron Hamilton and Dick Barnett.Credit…Michael A. McCoy for The New York Times

Even though nine players from the Tennessee A&I championship teams went on to play professional basketball, their accomplishments quickly receded in the Jim Crow South.

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