Click here for COVID-19 updates affecting the campus community

Godfrey Dillard speaks about his role in sports history, Civil Rights Movement

After breaking barriers on the basketball court as one of the first black players in the Southeastern Conference, former Vanderbilt basketball player Godfrey Dillard spoke to a crowd of faculty and students in French Auditorium.

Dillard was brought to campus as a part of the Marge Bulger Sports Lecture Series, which brings those in the field of sports to speak at campus and share what they encountered throughout their careers.

Dillard’s presentation, “Achievement: I am the Master of my Fate” talked about his history with athletics and the barriers he had to over come as one of two black basketball players in the Southeastern Conference of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). 

Athletics was how he went on to go to college because his mother couldn’t afford it, Dillard said, and he attended Vanderbilt University on an athletic scholarship.

“You could win in sports, despite color, despite being poor or referees who didn’t like you. It took practice and more practice,” Dillard said.

Dillard described himself as colorblind and said he had only experienced racism through watching the Civil Rights Movement unfold on television and in the newspapers. That was, until he went to college.

“My first grade at Vanderbilt in the English department was an F, despite winning awards in high school for my English skills," Dillard said. "Little did I know that the English department was notorious for handing out racist grades."

Dillard’s experiences at Vanderbilt drove him onward to get his law degree and work in the field of civil rights. He focused on his education at Eastern Michigan University, the University of Michigan and George Washington University.

“(Dillard) has first hand experience in being one of the very few black men in athletics at that time,” said Physical Education and Sports faculty member Marcia Mackey. “He lived and created an important part of sports history. It’s important for students to grasp what happened in the past in order to fully move forward in the future.”

Cassopolis senior Ceila Ash opened for Dillard’s lecture. Ash is a sports management major who want’s to be an athletic director someday.

“How Godfrey overcame the struggles of being an African-American athlete in the south makes a difference in our lives today and it really relates to me,” Ash said.

Dillard practices law in civil rights cases and is a founding member of the Citizens for Affirmative Action’s Preservation. He has received a plaque for being a part of the Marge Bulger Sports History Lecture series and currently works back in his home city of Detroit.