Maxwell alumna Phaedra Stewart ’91 finds it difficult to look at the world without seeing opportunities to connect with people, raise their spirits and empower them to make their lives better. A self-described serial entrepreneur (some might say a serial…
SU to honor athletic pioneer Wilmeth Sidat-Singh
SU to honor athletic pioneer Wilmeth Sidat-SinghFebruary 24, 2005Sue Cornelius Edsonsedson@syr.edu
Few may remember his name today, but Wilmeth Sidat-Singh ’39 was not only a great athlete-he was also an individual of extraordinary courage. On Feb. 26, Syracuse University’s Office of Program Development, the Office of the Chancellor and SU Athletics will honor the memory of Sidat-Singh, his family and members of the Tuskegee Airmen, by retiring his #19 jersey at halftime of the SU men’s basketball game against Providence. The honor will also be celebrated in a Feb. 25 private reception.
“Wilmeth Sidat-Singh was a pioneer in everything that he did,” says SU Assistant Vice President for Program Development Larry Martin. “He was a remarkable individual, a two-sport star and an outstanding student. Until now, his story has only been known to a few.”
Sidat-Singh was born William Webb, the son of African American parents: Washington, D.C.-area pharmacist Elias Webb and Pauline Webb. Elias Webb died when William was a child; Pauline Webb then married Dr. Samuel Sidat-Singh, a medical student who had come to the United States to study at Howard University. Samuel Sidat-Singh adopted Wilmeth and moved the family Harlem, where he practiced family medicine for many years.
An All-New York City basketball player at DeWitt Clinton High School, Sidat-Singh led his Bronx team to the Public School Athletic League (PSAL) city championship in 1933-34. Despite his talent and credentials, Syracuse University was the only school to offer the young black athlete a scholarship. At SU, the six-foot, 190-pound Sidat-Singh led the Orange basketball team to three straight winning seasons, including a 14-0 record in 1938-39, which earned the team an unofficial national title.
A leader on campus, Sidat-Singh also joined the football team in his sophomore year after an assistant coach spotted him throwing a 55-yard pass in an intramural game. He was subject to the indignities plaguing many African-Americans when the Orange traveled to southern states to play. Officials from some of the schools SU traveled to play prevented Sidat-Singh from playing, citing segregation laws. He was banned from the 1937 game at Maryland, which the Orange lost 13-0. One year later, when the teams met in Archbold Stadium, Sidat-Singh helped SU to a 53-0 triumph against the Terrapins. He played halfback in Syracuse’s single-wing offense, a position similar to today’s quarterback. In 1938, legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice came to Syracuse to scout Rose Bowl-bound Cornell. After watching Sidat-Singh engineer a stunning 19-17 upset for Syracuse-including six passes for 150 yards and three touchdowns in the final 9 minutes – Rice ranked Sidat-Singh with Sid Luckman and Sammy Baugh as one of the greatest passers of the era.
After graduation, Sidat-Singh played with the Syracuse Reds, one of the few racially integrated professional basketball teams of the barnstorming era. A year later, he joined the Harlem Renaissance (or “Rens”), the most famous of the African American barnstorming teams.
In 1943, 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, 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. First Lieutenant Sidat-Singh is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and today, his memory serves as a compelling reminder of African American athletes’-and SU’s-parts in the struggle against racism.