March 28 play reading to honor legacy of SU great Wilmeth Sidat-Singh ’39
March 28 play reading to honor legacy of SU great Wilmeth Sidat-Singh ’39March 17, 2006Sara Millersemortim@syr.edu
Wilmeth Sidat-Singh ’39 was a great athlete and an individual of extraordinary courage. On Tuesday, March 28, Sidat-Singh’s legacy will be honored at a special evening event in which Syracuse University graduate and playwright Ralph Ellis ’54 will offer a reading of his play, “Singh Singh Singh,” a fictionalized drama based on Sidat-Singh’s life as an African American football player at SU in the 1930s.
The play reading will take place at 7 p.m. at the Paul Robeson Performing Arts Company (805 E. Genesee St.). The event is free and open to the public, but attendees are asked to R.S.V.P. to SU’s Office of Program Development at 443-2399 firstname.lastname@example.org because seating is limited.
Sidat-Singh was both a gridiron and basketball star throughout his athletic career at SU. As halfback for the football team, he became known as the “Slinging Hindu” for his brilliant passing ability. Sidat-Singh was not a Hindu, however, and on the eve of the Syracuse vs. Maryland game in 1937, he was exposed as a Negro and branded an impostor. Maryland refused to play against a Negro and SU — threatened with breach of contract and financial loss as well as warnings of possible fan violence if Sidat-Singh played — was finally coerced into keeping him out of the game.
Ellis’ play “Singh Singh Singh” deals with the events leading up to the Maryland disclosure and its aftermath, and culminates with Sidat-Singh’s recognition of who he was and his tragic and untimely death as a Tuskegee airman.
Sidat-Singh was also a basketball star at SU, leading the Orange to three straight winning seasons, including a 14-0 record in 1938-39, which earned the team anunofficial national title. On scholarship for his basketball ability, it was only after an assistant football coach spotted Sidat-Singh throwing a 55-yard pass in an intramural game that he joined the football team as a sophomore.
Following college, Sidat-Singh passed the entrance exam for the U.S. Army Air Corps and was assigned to the segregated armed forces’ only pilot training program for African Americans, the Tuskegee Airmen. Just days after earning his pilot’s wings in 1943, the engine of Sidat-Singh’s P-40 failed while on a training mission, forcing him to parachute into Lake Huron. His body was found a week later; 1st Lt. Sidat-Singh is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Today, his memory serves as a compelling reminder of African American athletes’ — and SU’s — parts in the struggle against racism.
In February 2005, SU retired Sidat-Singh’s #19 basketball jersey at halftime of the men’s basketball game against Providence College.
Writer and playwright Ellis is a graduate of SU’s School of Speech and Dramatic Arts, now known as the College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA). In addition to the plays he has written, he also has been a head writer of daytime television for three major networks. His credits include daytime dramas such as “Search for Tomorrow,” “The Doctors,” “Loving” and “As the World Turns.”
Ellis is the recipient of an Emmy and three Writers Guild of America awards and has taught and directed at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He has also been a visiting professor at SU’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.
This event is co-sponsored by SU’s Office of the Chancellor, the Division of Institutional Advancement, the Office of Program Development, the Office of Alumni Relations and VPA.
For more information on the reading, contact SU’s Office of Program Development at 443-2399.