Hawkeye Throwbacks Honoring 1921-22 Football Team: Duke Slater

Here at BHGP we love our Hawkeye history. Iowa will honor the undefeated 1921-22 football teams by wearing throwback uniforms on September 8th against Iowa State. Before they do, we want to get a deeper look at the team and the players Iowa will honor.

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(H/T University of Iowa archives)

Duke Slater (December 9, 1898 - August 14, 1966) was born Frederick Wayman Slater in Normal, Illinois. Duke's father would move his family to Clinton, Iowa, where he would serve as a pastor in the local Methodist church. Duke played high school football for Clinton. His senior season the Clinton team would meet West Des Moines High in the state final. West Des Moines, led by future teammates the Devine brothers, battled Clinton to a tie 13-13.

Slater's father didn't like the idea of his son playing football. Duke would begin his high school career without his father's knowldege. Finally, he relented but when it came time to purchase a helmet and shoes Slater's family only had money for one. Slater would play most of his football career without a helmet.

Slater played football his first year on the Iowa campus in 1918 because of World War I freshman eligibility rules temporarily changing allowing him to play. He'd earn honors his freshman football season. He was named to the all-Iowa team by the Des Moines Register.

Slater's second season at Iowa he'd earn unanimous first team all-Big Ten honors and second team all-American honors. He'd follow that up with another first team all-Big Ten selection in 1920. In 1921 he'd earn his third consecutive all-Big Ten honor and become the first African-American at Iowa to earn first team all-American honors. He also participated in track, throwing the shot put and discus where he'd earn three letters.

Slater was an imposing figure in his time. Although it's small today, at 6'2" 215 pounds Slater was a force. Following Iowa's defeat of Notre Dame in 1921, famous Fighting Irish do-everything player Hunk Anderson said of Slater,

"Duke repeatedly swept me out of the way by body-blocking me from the side. Frequently, I found myself sitting on the grass."

Famous sportswriter Walter Eckersall described Slater as,

"so powerful that one man cannot handle him and opposing elevens have found it necessary to send 2 men against him every time a play was sent off his side of the line."

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Duke Slater's accomplishments are amazing considering the era. Jackie Robinson didn't break the color barrier in professional baseball until 1947. Slater was one of the first, and for a time, the only African-American NFL football player (1927-29). (Slater's teammate Fritz Pollard is officially the first African-American NFL player).

After Iowa he played professionally for the Rock Island Independents in 1921. His professional football career lasted 10 seasons. After four seasons with Rock Island he'd play for the Chicago Cardinals until 1931. The NFL would ban African-American players in 1934. Slater's Chicago Cardinal jersey hangs in the Pro Football's African-American Pioneer exhibit.

While playing football professionally, Slater would return to Iowa in the off-season to further his education. He'd twice earn all-Pro honors and he'd earn his law degree in 1928. While playing for the Chicago Cardinals, Slater would begin his professional law career.

Staying in Chicago, Slater would become an assistant district attorney. In 1948, he became only the second African-American to be elected judge in Chicago. He served as the Municipal Court judge in Cook County, Illinois, until 1959. He'd serve as a Superior Court judge from 1960-64 and a Circuit Court judge from 1964-66.

Slater was never a stranger to the Iowa football program. He'd return to watch games at Iowa Field. He was there to watch Nile Kinnick and the Iron Men. He was there to watch Alex Karras too. He often returned to cheer on the Hawks with former Hawkeye Ozzie Simmons.

Slater joined Kinnick in the inaugural class of the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951. Of the 45 first members of the CFBHOF, Slater was the only African-American. He was also named to the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame in '51 with Kinnick and former teammate Aubrey Devine. His name is on one of Iowa's residence halls. Slater Hall is the only residence hall named after a former athlete.

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