Next time the sports masterminds at Kansas University turn out a football media guide, they should correct an error on page 184 of the current brochure. It does an injustice to two Jayhawks who deserve big-time credit for their roles in integrating the modern KU program.
The headline on the vignette reads: “Ed Harvey and Homer Floyd Broke Racial Barriers.” It should read: “Ed Harvey, John Francisco, John Traylor and THEN Homer Floyd Broke Racial Barriers.”
In 1893 (no typo), Ed Harvey of Lawrence became the first African-American to play football at Kansas. A center, he earned his “K” with the ‘93 Jayhawk team that was coached by A.W. Shepard and posted a 2-5 record. KU fell to Missouri, 12-4, in the season finale in Kansas City.
Harvey’s parents were born as slaves, and managed to escape the William Quantrill raiders here in bloody 1863. Almost as important, they were share-croppers who somehow managed to put their three sons through college. Imagine the verbal abuse Ed Harvey had to absorb from Missouri fans in that 1893 crowd in Kansas City. Later on, Ed was active in local farm and civic affairs, well-respected like his parents.
Halfback-fullback Homer Floyd from Massillon, Ohio, was an all-league star on KU teams from 1956 through 1958 after being brought here by coach Chuck Mather, who came in ‘54 from Massillon. But Homer for all his plaudits and merits was not the modern racial zone-breaker at KU.
Halfbacks John Francisco and John Traylor, two more Massillon products, lettered 1955-57, battling alleged friends and foes on bias-plagued teams that had records of 3-6-1, 3-6-1 and 5-4-1. Mather brought them here and put them into harness a year before he unveiled Floyd.
Francisco, whose late brother Paul lived here for some time, was a 5-10, 180-pounder who led the team in rushing with 459 yards as a 1955 sophomore. He never posted numbers near that as a junior and senior because he shared playing time with the likes of Homer Floyd and Charlie McCue, the onetime Lawrence High standout who came back home after finding SMU not to his liking.
Traylor was a hard-working 5-9, 160-pounder with good speed who was used more as a specialist, never as a starter. He and Francisco both were viable pass receivers and played some defense. The Ohioans were not often headline-makers. Since this was the 1950s, they, like Floyd for all his excellence, were stung by the same kinds of racial barbs as was Ed Harvey more than 60 years earlier. It happened on the road and at home. Vicious and demeaning, both places.
Bear in mind that Lawrence, the state of Kansas and the Big Seven-Big Eight Conference were not exactly hotbeds of liberalism in those days. Some of KU’s Kansas City alumni actually got up and left the stadium the first few times coach Mather sent Francisco and Traylor into action. Matter of fact, several of the KU “faithful” who walked out on the Massillonians were the same ones who took a huffy hike from Hoch Auditorium the night Phog Allen broke the basketball color line with LaVannes Squires in the early 1950s.
Homer Floyd, a ‘58 team captain under Jack Mitchell, was so good even most KU rednecks cheered. He played pro ball in Canada, then served as executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
But for all his achievements, Homer still has to play second-fiddle to Francisco and Traylor as KU’s modern racial barrier-breakers.