Once a Jayhawk, Always a Jayhawk: Homer Floyd
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a man of courage, perseverance and determination. He paved the way for many African-Americans as he helped fight for their equal rights and helped eliminate segregation in the United States of America. Before he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington D.C., in 1963 that shifted the country’s attitude about equal rights, there was a group of Jayhawks who were prominent advocates for desegregation in this country in the 1950’s that took place in Lawrence, Kansas. Among them was former football star Homer Floyd, who played running back and fullback for the Jayhawks from 1955 to 1958.
Floyd, who spent most of his schooling years in Mallison, Ohio, decided to become a Jayhawk because his former high school coach and Kansas head coach at the time, Charles “Chuck” Mather, urged him to come to Kansas. Floyd eventually led the Jayhawks in rushing three years in a row, from 1956 to 1958, and earned all-conference honors his senior season.
“There are a lot of people who helped me along the way and I had many positive experiences at KU and beyond,” Floyd described his time at Kansas. “Our coach, Chuck Mather, was very much in forefront of leading fights for African–Americans and Kansas Chancellor Franklin D. Murphy as well. Chancellor Murphy took it up himself to try to correct any issues that came up.”
Upon Floyd’s arrival on campus in 1955, Lawrence was still fully segregated and African–Americans were still treated unequally on a daily basis. At the time, African-Americans were not allowed to dine in the same restaurants; they had to take carry-out food and were forced to sit in the back or in the balconies at movie theaters. Even though he personally encountered these daily hardships, it never bothered Floyd.
“I think that, first of all, it’s important not to let external activities wreck your day,” Floyd said. “Try not to let others determine what you’re going to do for that day and how successful you’re going to be. In some instances, it gave us motivation to succeed. We wanted to prove the doubters wrong.”
Even though Floyd and other black students were able to overcome these daily struggles, they were determined for change to occur. A breaking point happened in 1957 when Kansas was playing TCU in a football game in Fort Worth, Texas. The black athletes were not allowed to stay in the same hotel as their white teammates. As a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, Floyd along with other Kappa members, KU basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain and KU track legend Ernie Shelby got together and voiced their displeasures with the University Chancellor at the time, Franklin. D. Murphy, about the situations that occurred.
“It really was a great insult,” Floyd said. “Over a period of time, there were a series of discussions that took place with the chancellor and he certainly was upset, assured to us it would not happen to us again that they would not schedule (games against) any school that wouldn’t allow black players to stay with their white teammates. It never happened again. It was instances like that, where we had support that was very helpful for setting the tone for us to help create change.”
With Floyd having the support of his fraternity brothers, the head football coach and chancellor, the city of Lawrence started to allow integration within local businesses and positive change was starting to happen. Floyd was voted co-captain, along with quarterback Bob Marshall, for the 1958 season. He thus became the first black captain in Kansas football history. Around the same time, his fraternity brother, Ernie Shelby, was also voted as the first black captain for the track team & field team in school history.
As a married student-athlete with a child at his duration at KU, Floyd’s experiences were somewhat different than many of his fellow Jayhawks. He graduated from Kansas in 1961 with a degree in education and decided to get involved with human rights activism. A few years later, Floyd was able to be in the presence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at various human activism conferences. In January of 1968, Floyd shared the stage with Martin Luther King, Jr., at a conference on the Kansas State University campus and was fascinated by the way King spoke and the type of person that he was.
“He was a marvelous speaker, his prose was absolutely incredible in the way he could deliver a speech, Floyd explained. “He embraced a worldwide concept of freedom and equal opportunity and was moving beyond just the issues in the Unites States. In retrospect, he was miles ahead of everybody in the concept of a world that was free of discrimination, segregation and victimization.”
Just as Dr. King made a lasting impression on Floyd, Dr. King may have felt much the same way about Floyd. In 2010, it was revealed that when Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, a piece of paper with five names on it that he gave recognition to in his presentation from his conference in Kansas had been found in the pocket of his suit jacket. One of those five names was Homer Floyd, who was chairman of the event back in 1968.
Floyd, who played one season of Canadian professional football after college, will not only be remembered for his perseverance and hard work ethic while at Kansas, but also for his impact in human activism throughout his 40-plus years of service in the field. In his time working at the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, from 1999 to 2011, he successfully assisted on 55,000 complaints that benefited at total of eight million individuals. Those complaints that were rectified not only dealt with racial issues, but rights for women and the disabled as well.
Just like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Homer Floyd showed tremendous courage, perseverance and determination. These two men will both be remembered for how they helped changed the world positively for millions of people.
“I learned that when you’re facing obstacles, develop a plan to either go around it, over it, or solve it. You do that by planning and looking at the best ways to do it.” Floyd concluded.
At the University of Kansas, throughout the United States and around the world, Floyd should be remembered, and commended, for stepping up for what he believed in. He showed the true virtues of what it really means to be a Jayhawk.
Once A Jayhawk, Always A Jayhawk