Friday, August 14, 2009

Jayhawk pioneers deserving


Next time the sports masterminds at Kansas University turn out a football media guide, they should correct an error on page 184 of the current brochure. It does an injustice to two Jayhawks who deserve big-time credit for their roles in integrating the modern KU program.

The headline on the vignette reads: “Ed Harvey and Homer Floyd Broke Racial Barriers.” It should read: “Ed Harvey, John Francisco, John Traylor and THEN Homer Floyd Broke Racial Barriers.”

In 1893 (no typo), Ed Harvey of Lawrence became the first African-American to play football at Kansas. A center, he earned his “K” with the ‘93 Jayhawk team that was coached by A.W. Shepard and posted a 2-5 record. KU fell to Missouri, 12-4, in the season finale in Kansas City.

Harvey’s parents were born as slaves, and managed to escape the William Quantrill raiders here in bloody 1863. Almost as important, they were share-croppers who somehow managed to put their three sons through college. Imagine the verbal abuse Ed Harvey had to absorb from Missouri fans in that 1893 crowd in Kansas City. Later on, Ed was active in local farm and civic affairs, well-respected like his parents.

Halfback-fullback Homer Floyd from Massillon, Ohio, was an all-league star on KU teams from 1956 through 1958 after being brought here by coach Chuck Mather, who came in ‘54 from Massillon. But Homer for all his plaudits and merits was not the modern racial zone-breaker at KU.

Halfbacks John Francisco and John Traylor, two more Massillon products, lettered 1955-57, battling alleged friends and foes on bias-plagued teams that had records of 3-6-1, 3-6-1 and 5-4-1. Mather brought them here and put them into harness a year before he unveiled Floyd.

Francisco, whose late brother Paul lived here for some time, was a 5-10, 180-pounder who led the team in rushing with 459 yards as a 1955 sophomore. He never posted numbers near that as a junior and senior because he shared playing time with the likes of Homer Floyd and Charlie McCue, the onetime Lawrence High standout who came back home after finding SMU not to his liking.

Traylor was a hard-working 5-9, 160-pounder with good speed who was used more as a specialist, never as a starter. He and Francisco both were viable pass receivers and played some defense. The Ohioans were not often headline-makers. Since this was the 1950s, they, like Floyd for all his excellence, were stung by the same kinds of racial barbs as was Ed Harvey more than 60 years earlier. It happened on the road and at home. Vicious and demeaning, both places.

Bear in mind that Lawrence, the state of Kansas and the Big Seven-Big Eight Conference were not exactly hotbeds of liberalism in those days. Some of KU’s Kansas City alumni actually got up and left the stadium the first few times coach Mather sent Francisco and Traylor into action. Matter of fact, several of the KU “faithful” who walked out on the Massillonians were the same ones who took a huffy hike from Hoch Auditorium the night Phog Allen broke the basketball color line with LaVannes Squires in the early 1950s.

Homer Floyd, a ‘58 team captain under Jack Mitchell, was so good even most KU rednecks cheered. He played pro ball in Canada, then served as executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

But for all his achievements, Homer still has to play second-fiddle to Francisco and Traylor as KU’s modern racial barrier-breakers.


MinnesotaJay 11 years, 3 months ago

Even though Floyd, Francisco and Traylor all played at approximately the same time, Homer Floyd is the one I remember. I used to catch the games on the radio from southern Kansas. Floyd was an exciting player.

A tip of the cap to all of those guys.

ktenandk7 11 years, 3 months ago

It's interesting that the use of the word "harness" was used in a story about breaking racial barriers.

Dirk Medema 11 years, 3 months ago

Now that's the historical Bill Mayer article we've all come to expect.

Good job & Thank You!

bradh 11 years, 3 months ago

Sounds like the guide should also include A.W. Shepard and Chuck Mather. I'm sure it would have been a lot easier for those two coaches not to include the black kids on their teams. Took some fortitude to ignore prevailing views, knowing you were going to alienate a good portion of your alumni (contributors) and cause people to start calling for your head even if you were successful.

Do we know how Harvey's parents avoided Quantrill's raiders? Some very interesting stories there, from people hiding in rain barrels to the senator hiding out in a field. Of course there were a lot of men and boys who didn't avoid the raiders and were brutally killed.

Rick Arnoldy 11 years, 3 months ago

This is the kind of historical perspective that Mayer is adept at communicating. He or someone needs to consolidate his writings like this into a book.

klineisanazi 11 years, 3 months ago

It would be a great bathroom sports book to sit by the commode.
Trivial trivia from a grumpy old man.

KGphoto 11 years, 3 months ago


How about nostalgic instead.

I can't believe I read that score right. 12-4. Ay yiyay. Was that 4 field goals and two safeties? Or 2 touchdowns, 2 missed extra points or conversions, and 2 safeties. Or maybe it was 8 safeties. Doesn't matter. It was ugly.

TxJyHwk 11 years, 3 months ago

KGPhoto, the scoring was a loft different then. I can't remember exactly, but it might have been that touchdowns were 4pts.

Joe Ross 11 years, 3 months ago

Outstanding work. This article gave me goosebumps! Kansas was the epicenter of the integration movement with the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision in '54 which ended Plessy v. Ferguson "Separate But Equal" ideology, and Lawrence was only 20 minutes away. It's interesting to me that this is the context within which three of the players mentioned in this article would have been at KU. Also of note is that Wilt Chamberlain would have been contemporaries of these players when he arrived on campus in '55. Chamberlain endured a lot of racism when he first arrived at KU, and that was a different experience than he had in his native Philadelphia. As we all know, Wilt ultimately grew to love the city of Lawrence and felt embraced by the fans of KU.

But what chokes me up about this article is the rendering of the story about Ed Harvey. This is Mayer at his finest. I read the exposition of Mr. Harvey a second time and still felt the gooseflesh. Perhaps because of my African American heritage, the discovery of this icon is particularly poignant. Perhaps it's because it speaks to the greatness of this school I love, that it's football team had the foresight to play him. A son of slaves...? How appropriate that it happen HERE, of all places!

When I think about what the Jayhawk mascot represents and how it was conceived and for what purpose, as an African American I dont feel disenfranchised by some of the stories where the University or the city has failed morally on racial issues. No. I feel embraced. Stories like this affirm my belief that there is an inherent goodness in this institution that almost has a life of its own. Yes, there have been struggles and failures, but the class of KU has always come shining through.

Well done, Mr. Mayer. And many thanks!

Christopher Hauser 11 years, 3 months ago

That was not the only error in the media guide. When Showing one of the bowl games that KU has played in it has Rice vs. other team instead of Kansas vs. other team. I can not remember which bowl game it was the media guide is over 200 pages long. There are also some other statistical errors in it.

klineisanazi- you can get the media guide for free on click on "Latest KU Football News" go down to highlights where it says media guide. It is over 200 pages long, but it is worth printing off and having in the bathroom.

esteshawk 11 years, 3 months ago


Thank you for that perspective - made my day.

Trace Stark 11 years, 3 months ago

most excellent, Mr. Mayer!!! many thanks for the history lesson. class dismissed.

11 years, 3 months ago

jross1972 ~

I'm with esteshawk. Outstanding commentary on a well-written article indeed. KU is fortunate to count you as part of the family.

ginger2015 11 years, 3 months ago

jross- Your post was nearly as good as the article. Good work by you and Mr. Mayer.

Eric Williams 11 years, 3 months ago


I guess we could certainly say, "They started their journey 'back then' (not now), my Lord" as the Evony babe in the ad to the right alluringly purrs. Um, wonder if she ever played football? If so, she would knock the life out of you if she hit you "front on".

Actually nobody else would say that. Just you b/c you haven't reached an age where speaking to other women (or men if you're gay) is common.

Joe Ross 11 years, 3 months ago

thank you guys for the kind sentiments. sometimes, more than others, you are aware that all of us are really "family".


741hawk 11 years, 3 months ago

Ditto, Ditto for jross1972. The article was great. Jross doubled its impact. Rock Chalk, you bet!

John Randall 11 years, 3 months ago

""It would be a great bathroom sports book to sit by the commode. Trivial trivia from a grumpy old man.""

Have heard enough of this crap from klineisanazi and other effete juveniles. Mayer writes better than any of you could ever hope to. Go pi$$ up a rope.

""I can't believe I read that score right. 12-4. Ay yiyay. Was that 4 field goals and two safeties? Or 2 touchdowns, 2 missed extra points or conversions, and 2 safeties. Or maybe it was 8 safeties. Doesn't matter. It was ugly.""

KGphoto -- pre-1900 scoring reflected the game's origins from soccer and rugby. Walter Camp came up with most of the early rules for American college football, including scoring, and there were many changes the first twenty or so years. Lots were about which kind of score counted how many points. Gradually, emphasis on kicking (one point for a safety, two for a touchdown, four for a goal after a touchdown, and five for a field goal) was replaced by rewarding advancing the ball via the running game, a quarter century later, the forward pass. By 1897, the values for scores were in place (except 2-pt conversion option). What you call "ugly" results were the norm. Over 20 points in a game meant one team was hopelessly out-classed.

John Randall 11 years, 3 months ago

BTW, I matriculated on The Hill in 1958, and Homer Floyd was the schnitz. He helped set the stage for Hadl, McClinton and company (freshmen didn't play varsity ball then) to usher in a brief period of success under Jack Mitchell, including the first KU bowl game - and victory.

Kman_blue 11 years, 3 months ago

Good article and I really appreciate the historical perspective.

jross1972, great comments about the article too. Ed has fascinated me ever since I first learned of him. I just can't fathom how mentally tough, not to mention physically tough he (and his entire family actually) had to be. I've always wanted someone to write a story about Ed Harvey alone. Track down his descendants and write any stories that might of been passed down through his family about his experiences at KU, Lawrence, or playing football as well as his life's story after KU, etc. If I recall correctly from what I have read, Ed's parents not only put all 3 of their sons into college, but all 3 graduated and I believe one of them became a successful doctor. It's been a while since I read that, so I may be mistaken, but that's what I recall. Most people don't realize a lot of the original Jayhawks were African American slaves who escaped from Missouri or were freed during Jayhawk raids in Missouri and fled to or were brought back to Kansas and freedom. In turn they helped free other slaves by taking part in other raids. Maybe one of these days someone will write a story on the African American pioneers of KU? I've read tidbits here and there, like about John McClendon (hall of fame basketball coaching legend from Hiawatha,KS and KU alum but who wasn't allowed to play on our team due to the rampant racism of the time (1930's)) and Ed Harvey, but I'm sure there are more and a lot more information out there.

Jim Williamson 11 years, 3 months ago

I might actually have to go back and read the article. After Mr. Burns took an unwarranted potshot at "the sports masterminds" at KU, I bailed on it.

actorman 11 years, 3 months ago

This is truly Mayer at his finest. I had not heard of any of these players, so it's great to continue to have my impression of KU as a groundbreaking institution confirmed. Whenever I talk to people about how special it is to be a Jayhawk, I explain to them where the term "Jayhawk" comes from and how it's about much more than sports. (And of course I also explain how our hatred for Misuse has far more meaning than other so-called "rivalries.") I echo the others in saying that both Mayer and JRoss deserve mucho kudos for their comments.

actorman 11 years, 3 months ago

And BTW, njjayhawk, last I checked, 5-4-1 was not "below .500." Of course that's not to say that your overall point isn't accurate, but at least give KU credit for breaking .500 when they did.

ciscokid 11 years, 3 months ago

Mr. Mayer, I would like to personally thank you for writing this article. I am John Francisco's first grandson. I never had a chance to meet John because he died of a heart attack shortly after I was born. I would love to see Kansas pay tribute to the true pioneers, not only because John was my grandfather, but because the record of history can be important to other people like myself. Filling in the holes of where you come from are very important to all of us, and I commend you for doing so for me and my family.

I must say it is a honor to know that my grandfather withstood the trials and tribulations of breaking the racial divide in a racially tense part of our history. Although, I never got a chance to meet him, I am awefully proud of him.

I found records on John's highschool games at Massillon and I wish I could have been that good in highschool. Ironically, I also was a runningback. Now, my son 6 year old son is playing Pop Warner and I coach his team. My family loves the game of football tremendously.

Thank you again Mr. Mayer for your support of those who once endured much adversity like Harvey, Francisco, Traylor, Floyd, Sayers. Kansas was a true pioneer, Alabama (where I was born) did not racially integrate until the early 70's and that included playing racially integrated teams until the Paul "Bear" Bryant took a bowl against an integrated team.

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