Passport photo of Sol Butler from 1919
July 27, 1897|
|Died||December 1, 1954
|Height||5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)|
|Weight||185 pounds (84 kg)|
|Position(s)||Fullback, halfback, quarterback|
|College||University of Dubuque|
Solomon "Sol" Butler (March 3, 1895 – December 1, 1954) was a multi-talented athlete who competed in American football and track and field. He finished seventh in the long jump competition at the 1920 Summer Olympics. He also played in the National Football League for the Hammond Pros, Akron Pros, Canton Bulldogs, Buffalo Bisons, and Rock Island Independents. Butler is buried at Maple Grove Cemetery in Wichita, Kansas.
Butler was born in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, on March 3, 1895, the youngest child of Ben and Mary Butler. His father was from Morgan County, Alabama, and born a slave in 1842; his mother was born in Georgia in 1867. His father fought in the Civil War and took the last name of Butler from General Butler whom he admired. The Butler family escaped slavery and settled in Wichita, Kansas, before moving to Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1909. “Sol”, as he was known, made the varsity football team as a starting halfback during his freshman year. He led the school in football and in track and field. His sophomore year he helped Hutchinson to a runner-up finish at the state meet after setting state records in the 100-yard dash. In 1913, as a junior in Hutchinson High School (Kansas) at a district meet he won six firsts, broke five meet records and unofficially broke a world record in the 50-yard dash. He along with his older brother Benjamin followed his high school coach to Rock Island, Illinois, for his senior season in 1914. Facing 300 of the best track stars of the Midwest in Chicago, he competed in the regional interscholastic meet held at Northwestern University. He placed in the 60-yard dash and hurdles, the 440 yard dash, and also in the broad jump. He broke one meet record, tied a world record, and won fourth place overall, competing against entire track teams.
Butler earned 12 varsity letters competing in football, basketball, baseball and track and field at the University of Dubuque from 1915 to 1919. According to Arthur Ashe Jr.'s book Hard Road to Glory, A History of the African-American Athlete, Butler was the first African American to quarterback a team for all four years of college. In Butler's day, the track and field of activity was restricted. There was no national collegiate meet and very little indoor competition. Even the Drake Relays, then in their formative years, provided no such event as the broad jump. Butler went to the Penn Relays for that competition and twice won the championship. In 1919, to illustrate, Butler won both the 100-yard dash and broad jump at the Penn Relays. Entering military service as a soldier in World War I as he represented the U.S. Army in the Inter-Allied Games in Paris. He won the broad jump and placed in the 100-meter dash. He was knighted by the King of Montenegro, who made Butler a Knight of the Third Order of Danilo. With the Olympic Games scheduled for renewal in 1920 after the wartime interruption in 1916, Butler was rated as a heavy favorite for the championship. His winning jump at Paris, 24-9 1/2, was two inches from the Olympic record and was considered a strong possibility for a new Olympic record. Butler went to Antwerp for the 1920 Olympics, but misfortune nailed him quickly. On his very first jump in the Olympic preliminaries he pulled a tendon and was forced to withdraw. The injury-hampered effort was a shade under 21-8. He won the U.S. National Amateur Athletic Union championship that same year by broad jumping 24-8.
He signed on with the NFL in 1923 with the Rock Island Independents, which local accounts raved about his first appearance in the victory over the Chicago Bears. His contract from Rock Island was sold to the Hammond Eleven in November 1923 for the remainder of the season for $10,000. Butler played alongside Jim Thorpe of the Canton Bulldogs where he was named starting quarterback in 1926. In 1926, the New York Giants refused to let it’s all white team on the field in front of the largest crowd ever (40,000) to watch an NFL game until Canton withdraw Butler as starting quarterback.
While in California playing for the Chicago All-Stars basketball team which he founded, he would stay in the state. Butler used his earnings to re-open Jack’s Cafe, previously owned by Jack Johnson, former heavyweight boxing champion in 1932. He was named to a key role in a film by Russ Sanders in 1935 being filmed in Hollywood, Calif. after playing minor parts in a few films prior. He was signed by Oscar Devereaux Mischaux, and independent producer of more than 44 films for Lincoln Motion Picture Company. Butler moved back to the Midwest and went on to work with the youth in the Negro districts as recreation director of Chicago's Washington Park. He worked part-time as a probationary officer, and became sports editor for the Chicago Bee and The Defender newspapers in Chicago. He and his brother Ben, sold cars, self-published a book on track and field, shined shoes, and did anything they could to raise money. In his later years after prohibition, Butler owned nightclubs in Chicago, set up his own talent agency and for a brief period was in the record business representing Paul Robeson, an American singer and actor who was a political activist for the Civil Rights Movement.
He died on December 1, 1954, in Paddy’s Liquors, a Chicago tavern where he was employed for seven years. Butler met his death by a man named Jimmie Hill, who reportedly had been annoying two female patrons. Butler ejected Hill, who came back with a gun and shot the former star in the hip and chest. Butler died of his injuries at Chicago's Provident hospital.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sol Butler.|
- An Unheralded World Class Athlete by James Odenkirk
-  Film loop of Solomon Butler Jumping at 1919 games