WMU News

Michigan History includes tribute to WMU gridiron great

May 5, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- An early 20th-century WMU football star who struck fear in the hearts of opponents while he battled racism both on and off the playing field is the subject of a major feature in the latest issue of Michigan History magazine, on sale now at major newsstands throughout the state.

The "Black Ghost" is the title in the May-June issue of a profile on Samuel J. Dunlap, WMU's first black athlete, who was a star of the 1915-17 and 1919 football teams and a member of the University's Athletic Hall of Fame. The story was written by Tom Dietz, curator of research at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum and is part of an issue of Michigan History that focuses on Michigan's sports heritage.

Dunlap was recruited by the University of Michigan until its coaching staff learned he was an African-American. He was welcomed to Western State Normal School in 1915 by President Dwight B. Waldo.

Playing for Western coach William H. Spaulding, Dunlap became an integral part of the Western Hilltoppers powerhouse team and earned the nickname "The Black Ghost" for his prowess on the field. He also earned the praise of the likes of Notre Dame's Knute Rockne, who called Dunlap one of the finest athletes he had ever seen.

The saga of Dunlap, his lifelong friendship with Waldo and the racial barriers he faced as part of the Western team also are part of historian Larry Massie's WMU centennial history, "Brown and Golden Memories," which will be released this summer. Both authors' accounts of Dunlap's Western athletic career focus on an episode in 1915, when Culver Military Academy refused to play Western if Dunlap took the field. Waldo told Dunlap the school would support the player if he chose to play, but Dunlap opted to sit out the game--the only game he missed in his collegiate career--while his teammates trounced the offending team from Culver by a 69-point margin.

After living and working in Virginia, New York and California, Dunlap returned to Kalamazoo in the 1950s and remained in the city until his death in 1961.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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