This team was led by one of the greatest basketball players that Chicago
ever produced. His name was Paxton Lumpkin. On .Thursday,
January 10th, I read in the papers that Paxton had died
of cancer at the Lakeside VA Hospital at the
age of 54.
I was tremendously saddened by Paxton’s death and began to call other athletes
who had been influenced by the DuSable 1954 team, and
Paxton. From all those athletes I was able to contact,
I could feel the profound respect they all had for the
contributions Paxton Lumpkin made to the game of basketball
in this city.
I was in the 7th grade in 1954 when DuSable played in what was called the Sweet
Sixteen State Tournament during that time, at the
University of Illinois,
Huff Gymnasium, in Champaign.
The entire Black community, and particularly those participants and supporters
of athletics, had their eyes, ears, and spirit fixed on
the 54 DuSable team as they entered the state tournament.
Like so many other African American youth, during this era, basketball was a
game we were just beginning to learn to play. Most of
us admired the Harlem Globetrotters and their stars, Goose
Tatum and Marqus Haynes. We all tried to emulate their
styles of play dribbling, shooting, passing, and rebounding.
Some of us had an opportunity to watch some of the DuSable players play on the
playground, so we were somewhat familiar with the talent
they possessed. We
especially had great admiration for the skills Paxton
exhibited in dribbling and passing the basketball and
his overall leadership ability on the basketball court.
For those of us who were not able to go to the state tournament in 1954, we
listened to the games on the radio. It appeared that DuSable
was on its way to winning the state championship with
Paxton leading the way. They were literally “blowing out”
their opponents in the preliminary, quarterfinal and semi-final
The championship game against Mt. Vernon was televised. Sitting in the living
room with my father, I can’t ever remember pulling for
an athletic team to win a game as hard as I pulled for
This championship game was one of the greatest basketball games I had ever seen.
The DuSable players had so much impact on me that I can
almost remember the starting line-up of Shellie McMillian,
Charlie Brown, McKinley Cowsen, Carl Dennis, and Paxton.
DuSable lost the championship game to Mt.
Vernon in a very close game 76
to 70. Ironically, it was an African American player for
Mt. Vernon, Al Avant,
who scored 30 points and provided the leadership for their
winning the title game.
My heart, along with so many others, was broken as a result of DuSable’s loss
to Mt. Vernon. Many of us felt the men who officiated
the game called the game poorly and many of their calls
were racially motivated. As I recall, Mt. Vernon had only
one Black player and that was Avant.
Nonetheless, the DuSable team became the sports heroes in the African American
Community of Chicago. I can truthfully say, I idolized
Paxton Lumpkin. Paxton and the DuSable team influenced
a whole generation of aspiring basketball players like
As a matter of fact, in the summer of ’54, it seemed that most of the youth
in the Black community of Chicago were trying to learn to play, or trying to improve their game,
on the playgrounds throughout the neighborhoods. DuSable
and Paxton were on the minds of all of us as we ran up
and down the concrete playground basketball courts.
There were many great basketball players before the ’54 Paxton Lumpkin led DuSable
team and obviously there have been many more great players
and teams to emerge from Chicago since that time. But, I don’t think there have been a player
and a team that so inspired a community like DuSable.
Even though they lost, they were our heroes and champions
in the fight against racism in sports.
From that moment on, African American teams and players from Chicago
began to dominate the annual state tournament exhibition
of the best teams and players in the state of Illinois. Finally, the great Marshal High School
Team of 1958 won the state tournament for the first time
that a Chicago
high school basketball team accomplished this feat.
Of course Marshal won the state tournament again in 1960 and then the great
Carver teams began to emerge.
There is no question that Chicago and Chicago area teams have dominated the winning of the state basketball
tournament the last 30 years.
All of us who love athletics, and particularly basketball, should take a moment
of silence and pay tribute to one of Chicago’s
greatest basketball players - Paxton Lumpkin.
We will miss you Paxton, but your spirit will live among us.
Columnist, Conrad W. Worrill, PhD, is the National Chairman
of the National Black United Front (NBUF). Click here
to contact Dr. Worrill.