About Wilmeth Sidat-Singh
Wilmeth Sidat-Singh (February 13, 1918 in Washington DC - May 9, 1943 Lake Huron) was an African-American basketball and football player who was subject to segregation in college and professional sports in the 1930s. During World War II, he applied and was accepted as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, the only African American unit in the U.S. Army Air Force, and won his wings as a pilot. Sidat-Singh died in 1943 during a training mission when the engine of his airplane failed.
Wilmeth Didat-Singh's parents were both African-American, but after the death of his father, Elias Webb (a pharmacist), his mother, Pauline, married Samuel Sidat-Singh, a medical student from India who adopted Wilmeth, giving him his family name. After his graduation from Howard University, Dr. Sidat-Singh moved the family to Harlem and set up a family medical practice. Wilmeth showed great talent as an athlete and became a basketball star, leading DeWitt Clinton High School to the New York Public High School Athletic League championship in 1934. He received an offer of a basketball scholarship from Syracuse University and enrolled in 1935. While playing an intramural football game, an assistant football coach noticed his talent and asked him to join the football team. Sidat-Singh starred for Syracuse, playing a position equivalent to modern-day quarterback and starred for the basketball team as well.
Syracuse University and nearby Cornell University were among the first collegiate football teams to include African American players as starting backfield players. But when games were played in Southern segregation states, African American players from Northern schools were banned from the field. Because of his light complexion and name, Sidat-Singh was sometimes assumed to be a "Hindu" (as people from India were often called by Americans during this time). However. shortly before a game against the University of Maryland, a black sportswriter Sam Lacy wrote an article in The Baltimore Afro American', revealing Sidat-Singh's true racial identity. Wilmeth Sidat-Singh was held out of the game and Syracuse lost that game. In a rematch the following year at Syracuse, Sidat-Singh led the Orange to a lopsided victory over Maryland.
With unofficial bans on black players enacted in both the NBL and NFL, Sidat-Singh played briefly for a professional barnstorming basketball team in Syracuse and then joined the Washington, D.C., police. After U.S. entry into World War II, he applied and was accepted as a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, the only African American unit in the U.S. Army Air Force, and won his wings as a pilot. Sidat-Singh died in 1943 during a training mission when the engine of his airplane failed. He drowned in Lake Huron.
In 2005, Syracuse University honored Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, retiring his number and hanging his basketball jersey in the rafters of the Carrier Dome.