Until his death in the early 1990s, Harrison Fitch rooted for the basketball team that stood by him when racists on an opposing team refused to play.
It was 1934, and Fitch was the first and only African-American player on the Connecticut State Agricultural College basketball team. He was a sophomore from New Haven, a star player nicknamed ‘Honey.’
Standing by Harrison Fitch
On Jan. 28, the team rode to New London and suited up to play the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Bears.
Just before the game, the Bears entered a protest: They would not play if Fitch played.
The Coast Guard said more than half its students were from the South. There also “had been a long tradition that no “negro” players could engage in contests at the Academy.”
The Connecticut State players threatened to leave. The coaches argued. The Connecticut State players began to warm up with Fitch, shooting, and passing with him in a show of solidarity.
Hours later, at 11 pm, the game started. What really happened is unclear. According to some accounts, the Coast Guard relented and agreed to play with Fitch. According to another, the coaches agreed that Fitch would sit out the game.
What is clear is that Fitch didn’t get a minute of playing time, and Coach John Heldman never explained why he benched him.
Harrison Fitch held his head high on the sidelines as the teams played a rough, foul-filled game. Connecticut won, 31 to 29.
Days later, the two colleges issued a statement saying their relationship with each other was not impaired. It also said, “in the future any student would be eligible to participate in athletic events” between them.
Fitch left Connecticut State at the end of the term, transferring to American International College in Springfield, Mass. There he met his wife, Hazel Brandrum. They had two sons, Charles and Harrison Jr., known as Brooks.
Brooks Fitch told the University of Connecticut Advance that his father transferred for financial reasons. After graduation, he went to work at Monsanto as a researcher.
He would speak fondly of Connecticut State and of his teammates, and he would watch UConn basketball games on television.
Brooks graduated from UConn in 1964, and said he encourages young African-American students to apply.
This story last updated in 2022.
[…] Harrison B. Fitch was a standout UConn basketball player, the first African-American to play on the team. Read how he held his head high in 1934 before a hostile opposing team here. […]
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