New Study the South Essay by Aram Goudsouzian


An essay by Aram Goudsouzian. Published March 31, 2016.
“‘Back to One City’: The 1973 Memphis State Tigers and Myths of Race and Sport”

In 1973 the Memphis State Tigers reached the finals of the NCAA basketball tournament. Though they lost to UCLA, they inspired a civic myth. With each victory, the city’s enthusiasm ballooned, with paeans to stars Larry Finch, Ronnie Robinson, and Larry Kenon, as well as coach Gene Bartow. Politicians upheld the team as a vehicle of interracial unity, supposedly healing the scars from Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968. This myth has elements of truth, as basketball provided common ground across lines of race and class. Yet it hides as much as it reveals. Success in basketball smoothed over Memphians’ anxieties about the university, the city, and the future of race relations. The story of this season thus illuminates how sports can not only foster racial progress, but also obscure racial divisions.

Read the full essay here

About the Author

Aram Goudsouzian is chair of the Department of History at the University of Memphis. He grew up in Winchester, Massachusetts. He earned his BA from Colby College and his PhD from Purdue University. He is the author of Down to the Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Meredith March Against Fear, King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution, The Hurricane of 1938, and Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon.


Study the South is a peer-reviewed, multimedia, online journal, published and managed by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. The journal, founded in 2014, exists to encourage interdisciplinary academic thought and discourse on the culture of the American South, particularly in the fields of history, anthropology, sociology, music, literature, documentary studies, gender studies, religion, geography, media studies, race studies, ethnicity, folklife, and art. Contact Jimmy Thomas at for more information.

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