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Iowa History Daily: October 1 - Duke Slater's Debut

Iowa History Daily: On October 1, 1922, University of Iowa football legend Duke Slater made his NFL debut for the Rock Island Independents becoming the first African-American lineman in league history. A member of the 1921 Hawkeye team which captured a national championship, Slater shined on the gridiron for Iowa.

Born in Illinois, Slater and his family moved to Clinton, Iowa, when his father gained a position as a pastor at the AME Church of Clinton. Duke’s father tried to stop the aspiring footballer from playing due to concerns about the rough nature of the sport, however, the young man went on a hunger strike until his father allowed him to play. Playing at Clinton High School without a helmet because he couldn’t afford one, Duke Slate played on two teams which captured state championships (1913 and 1914).

Arriving at the University of Iowa in 1918, Slater gained instant eligibility when World War I suspended college football’s prohibition on freshman playing. A four-year letter winner, Slater’s years at Iowa saw the team compile a record of 23-6-1. A unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection as a sophomore, Slater gained further distinction when he earned second-team All-American honors in 1919. While the individual accolades accumulated, the Hawkeyes moved toward great team success. By Slater’s senior year, the team stood primed to compete at the highest levels of college football. Slater shined as Iowa claimed a share of the national championship while posting a perfect 7-0 record and never trailing at any point over the course of the season.

Slater proved a large part of the success, leading legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne to say: “This fellow Slater just about beat my team single-handed in the only contest we lost. Realizing the great strength of Slater and the fact that he knew how to use that strength to intelligent advantage, I had four of my players massed around Slater throughout the game. Occasionally my boys would stop the big tackle, but those times were the exception. Usually, he made such holes in my strong line that fullback Locke would go through for long gains, often standing straight up as he advanced with the ball." The following year, Slater found himself in the NFL, kicking off a 10 year career with the Rock Island Independents and the Chicago Cardinals. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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