Duke Slater

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Duke Slater
Duke Slater.jpg
No. 16
Personal information
Born:(1898-12-09)December 9, 1898
Normal, Illinois, United States
Died:August 14, 1966(1966-08-14) (aged 67)
Chicago, United States
Height:6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Weight:215 lb (98 kg)
Career information
High school:Clinton (IA)
Career history
Career highlights and awards
  • 5× First-team All-Pro
  • 2× Second-team All-Pro
Career NFL statistics
Player stats at NFL.com

Frederick Wayman "Duke" Slater (December 9, 1898 – August 14, 1966) was an American football player and one of the great black players of the 1920s. Slater played for the University of Iowa in college and played professionally for ten years. He is enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.



Slater was born in Illinois in 1898, the son of George Slater, a Methodist minister. Slater had four sisters and a brother, and their mother died when Slater was 11 years old; Fred's father remarried two years later. As a boy, Slater somehow picked up the name of the family dog, Duke, as a personal nickname. When Slater was 13 years old, the family moved after his father became pastor of the Methodist church in Clinton, Iowa.

Slater's father forbade him to go out for football at Clinton High School because he didn't want Slater injured in the rough sport. Slater did so anyway, but his father discovered it when he saw his wife sewing up the rips in the ragged uniform that had been issued to Slater. Brokenhearted, Slater went on a hunger strike for several days. Finally, his father acquiesced on the condition that Slater must be careful to avoid injury. As a result, Slater was always careful to never complain or let anyone see his injuries.[1]

Every player needed to provide their own shoes and helmet. Since Slater's father could not afford both, Slater decided he needed shoes more. He played every game at Clinton High without a helmet. Meanwhile, Slater's feet were so big, his shoes had to be special ordered from Chicago.[1] Slater played well for Clinton High, leading them to the Iowa State Championship game in 1914. The title game against Des Moines West High School ended in a 13-13 tie. Des Moines West was led by Aubrey Devine, Slater's teammate at Iowa.

College career[edit]

When Slater arrived at Iowa in 1918, eligibility rules had been suspended due to World War I. Therefore, Slater was able to play and letter at Iowa as a freshman. He was selected to the all-Iowa team as a freshman by the Des Moines Register. As a sophomore in 1919, Slater was a unanimous first team All-Big Ten selection and a second team All-American.

Slater was again a unanimous first team All-Big Ten selection in 1920. In his senior year in 1921, Slater led Iowa to a perfect 7-0 record and its first Big Ten title in 21 years. Slater helped Iowa defeat Notre Dame, 10-7, to snap a 20-game winning streak for coach Knute Rockne's Irish. One of the greatest photographs in the history of Iowa football is from that game, depicting a helmetless Slater clearing a hole for teammate Gordon Locke by blocking three Notre Dame defenders.

Sportswriter Walter Eckersall said, "Slater is so powerful that one man cannot handle him and opposing elevens have found it necessary to send two men against him every time a play was sent off his side of the line."[2] Fritz Crisler said, "Duke Slater was the best tackle I ever played against. I tried to block him throughout my college career but never once did I impede his progress to the ball carrier."[3] Slater's Iowa teams had a combined record of 23-6-1. Slater was not only named first team All-Big Ten for the third consecutive year in 1921; he was also a first-team All-American, making him the first black All-American at Iowa.[4]

Slater also earned three varsity letters for the Iowa track team, throwing the shot and discus.

Professional career[edit]

After graduating from Iowa, Slater played ten years of professional football. He played two games with the Milwaukee Badgers in 1922 and had a four-year career with the Rock Island Independents. Slater played 43 games for Rock Island from 1922 to 1926, seeing action for all 60 minutes of every game played by the team in these years.[5]

The American Football League, of which Rock Island was a part, folded in 1926 and the Independents were reduced to semi-professional status in the aftermath.[5] Slater then signed a contract with the Chicago Cardinals of the National Football League, becoming one of five black players in the league.[5]

Not only was Slater the first African-American lineman in NFL history, he was also one of the most outstanding linemen of his era. A movement began at that time among the ownership of the league to follow the racist example of professional baseball, however, and in 1927 every African-American player was out of the league, with the sole exception of Duke Slater.[5] The color ban faced by Slater and other black players was not ironclad, however, and four other African-American players managed to draw salaries in the NFL during short careers interspersed from 1928 through 1933.[5] Slater was once again the only black player in the league in 1929.[6]

In 1928, he encouraged the Cardinals to sign Harold Bradley Sr., who became the second black lineman in NFL history. Slater and Bradley played alongside each other during the first two games of the 1928 season.

On November 28, 1929, Slater participated in an NFL record as a lineman in front of Ernie Nevers in a game in which he scored six rushing touchdowns in a 40-6 victory over the Chicago Bears.[5] Slater played all 60 minutes of the contest, alternating between the offensive and defensive lines as well as participating on special teams.[5]

By the time of his retirement in 1931, Slater had achieved All-Pro status a total of seven times.[5] During his NFL career Slater never missed a game because of injury, starting in a total of 96 of the 99 games he played between the AFL and NFL.[7]

Coaching career[edit]

In 1934, the NFL again tightened its color ban prohibiting the participation of black players.[7] Although by this time retired as a player, Slater was instrumental in the movement to assemble all-star teams of African-American players. Slater served as head coach of the Chicago Negro All-Stars in 1933, losing both of the known contests played by the team by a combined score of 37-0.[7]

Slater returned to coaching black semi-professional teams later in the decade, heading the Chicago Brown Bombers in 1937, the Chicago Comets in 1939, and the Chicago Panthers in 1940, amassing a career semi-pro coaching record of 10-9-1 for games with known results.[7] Slater was also assistant coach for a 1938 exhibition of the Chicago Negro All-Stars against the Chicago Bears, a game won by the Bears by a score of 51-0.[7]

Years after football[edit]

He returned to Iowa in the off-seasons and earned his law degree in 1928. Slater practiced law while playing his final few years of professional football. After termination of his football career, he moved to Chicago and became an assistant district attorney. In 1948, Slater became the second African-American elected as a judge in Chicago when he won election to the city's Municipal Court.[8] In 1960, Slater became the first black member of the Chicago Superior Court, then the highest court in the city.[8] He moved to the Circuit Court of Cook County in 1964, following that institution's formation.[8]

Duke Slater continued to play a prominent role with the Hawkeye football team after retirement. He attended numerous Iowa games, often accompanied by Ozzie Simmons. Slater, the hero of Iowa's 1921 upset of Notre Dame, watched with tears in his eyes from the sidelines as Nile Kinnick crashed across the goal line for Iowa's only score in a 7–6 upset of Notre Dame in 1939.[9] He was also on the field and in the locker room to congratulate Alex Karras and the rest of the Iowa team after they defeated Ohio State to clinch the Big Ten title in 1956.

Slater died at age 67 of stomach cancer; he had no children.


Slater was one of just five football players inducted into the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame in the Hall's inaugural year in 1951, joining Nile Kinnick, Aubrey Devine, Jay Berwanger, and Elmer Layden.

Duke Slater is one of two Iowa players who was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in its inaugural year of 1951 (Nile Kinnick was the other). In the 1960s, before Iowa Stadium had been renamed after Nile Kinnick, some suggested that Iowa should name the stadium after Slater.[10] Instead, the University of Iowa named a residence hall after Duke. Slater Hall in Iowa City bears Duke's name; it is the only residence hall at Iowa named after a former athlete.

Slater was a finalist for election to the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1970 and 1971, but he failed to gain sufficient votes for election and his candidacy, fell by the wayside as the generation who remembered him as a player grew old and died.[8] In 2004, he was named to the Professional Football Researchers Association Hall of Very Good in the association's second HOVG class [11] and his candidacy for induction into the Professional Football Hall of Fame is one of four candidacies that the PRFA officially supports.

In 1989, Iowa fans selected an all-time University of Iowa football team during the 100th anniversary celebration of Iowa football, and Slater was selected as an offensive tackle. Slater is also a member of the National Intercollegiate All-American Football Players Honor Roll of The Pigskin Club of Washington, D.C..


  1. ^ a b Greatest Moments In Iowa Hawkeyes Football History, by Mark Dukes & Gus Schrader, Pages 18-19 (ISBN 1-57243-261-6)
  2. ^ Hawkeye Legends, Lists, & Lore, by Mike Finn & Chad Leistikow, Page 33 (ISBN 1-57167-178-1)
  3. ^ 75 Years With The Fighting Hawkeyes, by Bert McCrane & Dick Lamb, Page 73 (ASIN: B0007E01F8)
  4. ^ Neal Rozendaal, "Remembering Duke Slater", The Coffin Corner, vol. 34, no. 6 (Nov.-Dec. 2012), pg. 4.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Rozendaal, "Remembering Duke Slater", pg. 5.
  6. ^ Dan Daly, "This Duke Deserves Induction in Hall," Washington Times, February 4, 2006.
  7. ^ a b c d e Rozendaal, "Remembering Duke Slater", pg. 6.
  8. ^ a b c d Rozendaal, "Remembering Duke Slater", pg. 7.
  9. ^ Stump, Derald W. (1975). Kinnick: The Man and the Legend. Iowa City: University of Iowa. p. 62.
  10. ^ How Kinnick Stadium Was Named Archived March 13, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "Hall of Very Good". Retrieved July 13, 2016.

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