Homer Floyd, d’61, KU’s first African-American football team captain, and Ernie Shelby, f’59, KU’s first African-American track team captain, returned to Mount Oread for Martin Luther King Jr. Day events Jan. 19 in Lawrence.
After a program in Strong Hall, the two participated in a candlelight walk with about 125 students and faculty members to the Kansas Union for a Social Justice Celebration. Later that evening, Floyd and Shelby were honored during the Jayhawks’ rousing 85-78 victory over Oklahoma.
Floyd was an all-conference running back, and Shelby was a national-champion long jumper. In 1957, the two, along with All-America men’s basketball team captain Wilt Chamberlain, ’59, and All-America sprinter Charlie Tidwell, ’61, met with Chancellor Franklin Murphy to ask for his help in changing the discriminatory practices of Lawrence businesses.
At their urging, Murphy, c’36, convinced local businesses to provide equal service and access to African-Americans.
Floyd (left in photo below), who now lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, led the football team as co-captain in 1958 and went on to a distinguished career as a civil rights leader. Shelby (right), of Los Angeles, led the track team as captain in 1959, when the men’s team won the NCAA Outdoor National Championship. He won the national championship in the long jump in 1958 and ’59 and earned All-America honors. Shelby is a jazz composer and singer.
Four winners attended the event, including Homer Floyd, d’61; La Vert Murray, c’71; Julie Robinson, j’78, l’81; and Lynette Woodard, c’81. Illness prevented Leslie Meacham Saunders, c’73, of Roswell, Ga., from attending.
Four alumni were honored posthumously: Wilbur Goodseal, d’52, g’62; Chester I. Lewis Jr., c’51, l’53; Marie Ross, c’44; and Cheryl Warren Mattox, f’72.
Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little attended the banquet and congratulated the award-winners for breaking down barriers not only on campus but also in Lawrence. “Even after our own practices caught up with our ideals, those students still had to cope in the surrounding community,” she said, adding that she is concerned that “new barriers of income and class are reoccurring in a way that would take us backward. Who knew that some students now do not have the opportunities we did in the 1960s and ’70s?”
Floyd, of Harrisburg, Pa., retired after 41 years as director of Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission. He was the first African-American co-captain of the KU football team. “Coming to KU as a student-athlete helped me to understand what was important and why I should advance equal opportunity programs in the country,” he said. “A lot of things could be done legally it we just did it right. I found the job of a lifetime in Pennsylvania.”
Murray, who has helped revitalize Kansas City, Kan., as one of the developers of the Village West/Legends shopping district and the Kansas Speedway, recalled that as a student he was inspired by the inscription on Spooner Hall: Whosoever Findeth Wisdom Findeth Life. “I don’t know if I found wisdom,” he said, “but the University of Kansas set me on a glorious path in pursuit thereof.”
As he returned to his table, his young granddaughter said, “Great job, Papa,” to the delight of the crowd.
Nancy Dawson, now a college professor who began working at the Kansas City Call at age 14, accepted for the late Marie Ross, who was a regional leader among journalists, defying those who told her African-Americans could not succeed in the profession. “I’m a flower from the seeds she planted,” Dawson said.
Robinson, who since 2002 has served as a federal judge in Topeka, was the first African-American woman to serve on the federal bench in Kansas. “Other than my home and my mother and father, this is the place that inspired and motivated me,” she told her fellow alumni.
Woodard returned to campus from her home in Houston, where she is a financial adviser. A member of the KU women’s basketball team, she became an Academic All-American, Olympic gold medalist, the first woman to play for the Harlem Globetrotters and a member of 10 basketball halls of fame. She holds the KU scoring record of 3,649 points during her career, and she was the first woman to have her jersey hung in Allen Field House. “It’s an honor to be here among so many friends,” she said, adding special thanks to KU professor Bill Tuttle, who introduced her during the ceremony. “He has been my friend since 1977, before he even knew I could play basketball.”
After returning to her table, Woodard glanced into the hallway to find that another old friend and classmate had arrived to surprise her: Darnell Valentine, c’81, who played for KU from 1977 to 1981. Valentine, a former Olympian and NBA player, now a representative of the NBA Players’ Association, happened to be traveling through town on a business trip from Portland, Ore., and had stopped to watch the men’s team practice. He greeted the crowd and congratulated Woodard and the other Leaders and Innovators.
The chapter also honored Dorthy Pennington, g’70, PhD‘74, as a distinguished faculty member; alumnus Bill Fleming, c’67, for his distinguished service; and KU senior Fatoumata Bayo for her leadership of the Black Student Union and other campus organizations.
The chapter’s business meeting on Saturday morning launched the Black Alumni Chapter Scholarship Campaign. During the weekend, alumni contributed more than $50,000 to support incoming and current outstanding African-American students. Following the meeting, the group took a campus bus tour with Blane Harding, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs Director. On Saturday evening, Phi Beta Sigma fraternity members presented a step show to enthusiastic applause from alumni.
The weekend concluded on Sunday morning with friends old and new gathering at different locations around Lawrence for worship services and continued reminiscing. The weekend was a great success, and we hope to see everyone back in two years!
Watch the slideshow below to see pictures from the reunion events, or click here to view the photos on Flickr.