Michigan's Story: The History of Race at U-M
Diversity in Sports
Moses Fleetwood Walker
In 1882, Moses "Fleetwood" Walker was the first African American to play baseball at the University of Michigan. Walker may have also been the first African American to play college baseball. Walker became a businessman, inventor, newspaper editor, and author. He left Michigan in 1883, without a degree, to join a professional baseball team in Toledo. He became the first African American major leaguer when that Toledo team joined the American Association.
In 1890, George Jewett became the first African American to play varsity football at U-M. Jewett was an Ann Arbor High School star in both football and track. Jewett faced racism on the football field. In a game against Purdue, officials unscrambled a pile of players to find Jewett limp and unconscious. He was carried off the field while Purdue fans cheered wildly.
William DeHart Hubbard
In 1924, Hubbard became the first African American to win an individual gold medal in the Olympics. During his senior year at Michigan (1925) Hubbard set the world’s record in the long jump. While the football coach, Fielding Yost, had barred African American players from football since 1901, in 1921, then Athletic Director Yost allowed one African American to join the track team. Hubbard was the only African American track team member during his four years at U-M.
Gerald Ford and Willis Ward
In 1934, Georgia Tech refused to play football against Michigan unless the team benched Willis Ward, an African American player. Ward's teammate and friend, Gerald Ford, nearly quit the team in protest.
When Franklin Lett was a freshman at the University of Michigan (1934), Frank Cappon, the head coach of the basketball team, barred Lett from playing in the Big Ten. Cappon justified his reasoning by citing a "mutual agreement between the coaches" to not allow black students to play in the championship series. There was no written rule, but the coach did not want to cause trouble or "break the ice", claiming his actions would "put [him] on the spot".
In 1966, Keith Cooley became the first African American to letter in Gymnastics