Making an Impact: Homer Floyd
By: Dayton Hammes
There are several important moments that stand out in Homer Floyd’s life. Some positive, some negative. But in each of these moments, Floyd found a way to make an impact.
“In 1954, the Brown vs. (Topeka) Board of Education Supreme Court Decision outlawed segregation,” Floyd said. “We came in at the University of Kansas in 1955, so there was certainly some civil rights momentum nationwide as well as on our campus to try and break down the barriers.”
Floyd came to the University of Kansas after his high school football coach, Chuck Mathers, was named head coach at KU. Lawrence was still segregated, and much of Floyd’s experience at KU was impacted by it.
“Many of the people, particularly on the football team, had never had any contact whatsoever with African-Americans, so that was an important experience in my life,” Floyd said.
Throughout Floyd’s time at Kansas, he would be a part of numerous significant changes both on the KU campus and in the Lawrence community.
A moment that began to spark change in the community didn’t occur in Lawrence, however, or even in the state of Kansas. In 1957, the Jayhawks traveled to Fort Worth, Texas, to play TCU, where the African-American players and the white players weren’t allowed to stay in the same hotel.
After experiencing this, Floyd and other prominent student-athletes, along with Chancellor Franklin D. Murphy, worked to ensure nothing like this would ever happen again.
Although this situation didn’t occur in Lawrence, Kansas had its own fair share of challenges regarding segregation. African-Americans weren’t allowed to eat in restaurants, and had to sit in the back or balconies of theaters in town.
Chancellor Murphy did not stand for this segregation and did what he could to ensure that each and every KU student felt safe.
“Chancellor Murphy truly meant it when he said his doors were open,” Floyd said. “And if we had any difficulties we were to report them to him and he would work to resolve them. Certainly he was very much involved in helping to resolve situations in terms of segregation.”
In order to begin breaking down segregation in Lawrence, Murphy met with business owners. He shared his intent to show movies on campus and to prohibit students’ attendance at off-campus theaters if those theatres didn’t allow African-Americans the same accommodations as others.
“I thought that was a pretty brave move,” Floyd said.
It was changes like these that led to one of Floyd’s proudest moments in his life, being voted co-captain of the Kansas football team. Floyd was KU football’s first African-American captain.
“I was impressed that, by my senior year, I was elected co-captain of the football team by many of the players who had never had any contact with African-Americans at all,” Floyd said. “It showed a lot in terms of the growth we had in that period on the team.”
While being named the first African-American co-captain in KU football history is certainly something to be proud of, Floyd counts the honor as just one of his proudest moments. The other moment? Meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As the Executive Director of the Kansas Commission on Civil Rights, Floyd had been speaking with the chancellor at Kansas State University about recruiting teachers and students to join the commission.
In January of 1968, Floyd and a few other individuals were invited to share the stage with Dr. King.
“Hearing him speak and getting the chance to meet him and talk with him was a great experience,” Floyd said.
A few months later, Dr. King was assassinated. The card that he had used to read the names of Floyd and the other speakers was in his pocket.
Floyd’s impact was not only felt by numerous people throughout the KU, Lawrence and Kansas community.
As Black History Month comes to a close, Floyd has taken some time to reflect on where he’s been and the impact that he has helped to make, but also the future changes to come.
“(Black History Month) provides the opportunity to reflect and evaluate how we’re doing, as well as the kinds of things we need to still work on.”
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