Last week I posted about actions on the U of M campus that may lead to Fielding H. Yost’s name being removed from the first building he erected as athletic director in 1923, then Yost Field House (the first multipurpose athletic building of its kind), now Yost Ice Arena. I refer you to that blog for details https://wordpress.com/post/theviewfromharbal.com/1569.
The President’s advisory committee on University history, Yost name review, has offerred an on-line resource for members of the university community to post comments. Deadline is Monday, June 7. Yesterday, I figured I’d digested enough information to offer mine. Here they are:
I have read the committee’s materials, as well as some things I found on my own, and in none of them do I see portrayed the racist ogre Fielding Yost now at risk of having his named stripped from the first building he erected as athletic director. Indeed, I see instead a man who might be considered a racial champion for his times. Sure, his football teams for two decades were lily white, but he was recruiting from the student body, not nationwide as is the custom today. With fewer than 100 African-Americans in each class – and whose fault is that? – what are the chances he’ll pick one for the football team? No other Western Conference teams at the time had black players. As AD, he began to see the appeal of the highly talented African-American athlete. He was for whatever would bring Michigan greater glory. Talented trackster William Dehart Hubbard came on board Yost’s first year and eventually became the first African-American to win Olympic Gold. In Hubbard’s first year on the team, headed to Chicago to compete in the conference tournament, the Palmer House, where Michigan had stayed the previous 10 years, said it could not accommodate a colored athlete. Yost told them he’d look elsewhere, and they capitulated. Are these the actions of an inveterate racist? The next year, Rudolph Ash joined the baseball team, their first black player since 1883. Ash went on to a stellar career at Michigan and in the Negro leagues. Subsequently 4 more trackmen, and two tennis players joined. Then add Willis Ward, whose recruitment was pushed by some high level donors, but never actively opposed by Yost. The entire Georgia Tech ruse could be construed as Yost seeking his Jackie Robinson moment. GT was only a mediocre team at the time, so why play them? A victory does little to add to the glory of Michigan. Yet if they were to face up to, and overcome, their view of segregated football, what a coup that would be! Yost didn’t account for the degree of obstreperousness on the part of GT. The compromise necessary for the game to go on was awkward, but I don’t see the hands of Yost on it. The hands I see are those of Harry Bennet, Henry Ford’s enforcer, who sat Ward down and asked him to consider who his friends were. Shortly after that meeting, Ward asked coach Kipke to pull him from the game. Ward had employment at Ford for life, should he choose. Ward did fall apart after that game, but I submit it was his own doing, as he confronted the compromise he had made. Yost had other bona fides. He was the first coach to allow Jewish athletes to participate. It is said that his actions as athletic director did more for women’s sports than anything before title IX. His love for Michigan athletes extended far beyond the varsity playing field, as he saw participation in sports as important to the health of the entire student body and his efforts as AD, such as construction of the intramural building, where I played many a pickup basketball game back in the day, show this.
No member of our athletic department, in its long and storied history, has done more for our University than Fielding H. Yost. He deserves only much deserved honor, not the ignominy of cancellation.