Gridirony: Segregated Stardom

Saturday, January 4, 2014
Exhibit Hall B South (Marriott Wardman Park)
Brian Hallstoos, University of Dubuque
"Gridirony: Segregated Stardom" focuses on the effect that individual success in sports had on racial attitudes during a low point in U.S. race relations.  Focusing on two exceptional African American college athletes, Paul Robeson and Sol Butler, this poster addresses the following question: How did their celebrated collegiate careers in the late 1910s shape racial attitudes and behavior?  These two men provide an especially revealing look at the degree to which athletic stardom could subvert racial conventions, at least in terms of their own team experiences.  They both became standouts in multiple sports among their white peers at Rutgers University (Robeson) and the University of Dubuque (Butler) at a time when few African Americans attended non-historically black colleges and racial violence escalated in response to big social changes attendant to World War I and the Great Migration.  

Within the context of black stardom, this poster devotes special attention to the bonds that connected Robeson and Butler to their white teammates.  Drawing upon scholarship on the historical dynamics of interracial friendship, "Gridirony" explores various evidence of these athletes' constructive interactions with white students who otherwise may not have known or associated with African Americans.  Special attention will be given to the documented friendship between Robeson and a white football teammate, Frederick Rollins, whose living son has preserved photographs and memories that attest to this bond and its limits.  Efforts will be made to find similar evidence of the existence and quality of Butler's relationship with white players.  Regardless of whether or not this search proves successful, the poster will address the contingencies and significance of such friendships.

"Gridirony" will benefit from the efforts of University of Dubuque students, who will research Paul Robeson and Sol Butler in a fall 2013 Museum Studies course taught by Dr. Hallstoos and another professor.  The professors' and students' collaborative research will culminate in the University's spring 2014 exhibition on these two standout athletes in the gallery of the new Heritage Center, the cultural hub on campus.  By comparing the collegiate experiences of Robeson and Butler, two similarly accomplished athletes who rarely if ever get discussed together, audiences will gain historical perspective on the racial dimensions of stardom in American sports.

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