The Belford Lawson Mystery
the son of a Confederate soldier, did not permit black men to wear Michigan's football uniform.
In track and field, there were black Wolverines in Yost's time, including the great William DeHart Hubbard, the 1924 Olympic gold medalist in the long jump. And there was a black letterman in baseball, Rudolph Ash, who batted .405 in 1923. But in football Yost upheld a strict color line--or so it has long been assumed.
Yet a photograph in the U-M's Bentley Historical Library of the 1923 team--national champions, led by the All-American Harry Kipke--appears to show otherwise. There, second from the left in the second row, is an African American player. This was not the formal studio photograph of the team taken annually at season's end, but a field-side photo of men in uniforms and pads. Labeled "U. of M. Football Squad 1923," it was published in the Michigan Daily and several game programs. Captions identify the black man simply as "Lawson."
The facts of his life are fairly easy to establish--except for his role on the Michigan football team. There, questions and ambiguities remain--not only about Lawson, but about the permeability of Yost's color line and the experience of black athletes before the civil rights era.