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Sesquicentennial Moments: Ronald Staten & Curtis Williams

Ronald Staten (left) in 1958, and Curtis Williams (right) in 1967
Special Collections & Archives, Southeast Missouri State University
Ronald Staten (left) in 1958, and Curtis Williams (right) in 1967

Just as two African American women – Roberta Slayton and Helen Carter – integrated Southeast Missouri’s student body in 1954, two black men broke the sports color barrier. These pioneering student athletes – Ronald Staten and Curtis Williams - became the first African Americans to play intercollegiate sports for our university.

William's record setting and championship resume led many to believe that the two-sport stars integrated Southeast athletics in the mid-1960s. But Jackson graduate Ronald Staten earned that distinction as SEMO’s first African American athlete in 1957 playing a season for the Indians basketball team. He graduated in 1976.

Seven years after Staten, in 1964, Cape Central’s Curtis Williams followed that trailblazing path, the first African American scholarship athlete dominating in basketball and track. A three-year letterman in basketball, Williams averaged over 18 points/game on the hardwood, winning team MVP honors and first team all-MIAA as a senior. A four-year letterman in track, Williams was the MIAA conference champion in high jump, triple jump, and long jump and at one time held SEMO records in the high and triple.

The 1967 graduate and Southeast Hall of Famer recalled that despite only a few black students at SEMO, basketball road games were the most challenging. Some restaurants would not serve or otherwise segregate the integrated team in the back. Coach Charles Parsley maintained a strict policy that all teammates eat together or none, sometimes leaving restaurants for that very reason.

Joel P. Rhodes is a Professor in the History Department of Southeast Missouri State University. Raised in Kansas, he earned a B.S. in Education from the University of Kansas before earning his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.