Sprinting Through Barriers: The Life and Legacy of Sol Butler

You may not know it, but Maple Grove is the finally resting place of Sol Butler. Never heard of the legendary athlete? Read on…

Butler and Awards
Courtesy: rcreader.com

Solomon Wellings Butler, was born on June 2, 1895, in Rock Island, Illinois (some reports say, Kingfisher, Oklahoma on March 3, 1895). He grew up in Wichita, where his parents ran a soft drink stand. After several years, the family moved to Hutchinson. During Sol’s high school years, he excelled in both football and track and field, becoming a star in his hometown. Sol became the champion broad jumper during his high school years and later went on to become the world champion.

In 1915, Sol enrolled at the University of Dubuque in Iowa, where he continued to excel in multiple sports. He earned 12 varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball, and track and field. Sol’s athletic prowess gained recognition, and he became the first African American to quarterback a college football team for all four years.

Courtesy: Dubuque University

During his time at Dubuque, Sol faced racial discrimination and limited opportunities in the segregated sports world. However, he persevered and achieved remarkable success. He won the 100-yard dash and the broad jump at the Penn Relays in 1919, setting the stage for a promising Olympic career.

In 1920, Sol was expected to shine at the Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. However, misfortune struck when he pulled a tendon during his first jump in the preliminaries, forcing him to withdraw from the competition. Sol would win the U.S. National Amateur Athletic Union championship in the broad jump later that year.

Butler’s Passport Photo
Courtesy: Unknown

In 1923, Sol joined the National Football League (NFL) and played for several teams, including the Rock Island Independents, Hammond Pros, Akron Pros, Canton Bulldogs, and the Buffalo Bisons. He faced racial discrimination during his football career, but his skills and contributions to the game were widely recognized.

When his busy track schedule permitted, Butler played baseball, as both a pitcher and shortstop. In 1925, he pitched for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League. Additionally, basketball presented exciting opportunities for Butler, leading him to venture to California with the Chicago All-Stars. During his time in Hollywood, he successfully revived Jack’s Café, which had previously been owned by the renowned Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Jack Johnson.

Courtesy: Gallica Digital Library

After retiring from football, Sol returned to Chicago, where he married Berenice, a native Kansan. He dedicated his time to working with youth in the city’s African American communities, serving as a recreation director in Washington Park. Sol also became a sports editor for Chicago newspapers and participated in the Chicago Blackhawk alternative professional football team. He even ventured into the film industry, appearing in Kansan Oscar Micheaux’s movies.

Courtesy: Dubuque University

Tragically, Sol’s life was cut short on December 1, 1954, when he was shot by a patron at the bar where he worked in Chicago. He died from his injuries at Providence Hospital. Sol was buried in Maple Grove Cemetery.

Today, the University of Dubuque hosts the annual Sol Butler Classic indoor track meet in his honor. In addition, Butler was posthumously inducted into the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Sports Hall of Fame and the National High School Track and Field Hall of Fame.  Yet, a lingering mystery haunts his legacy. The whereabouts of his hard-earned awards and medals remain unknown, forever adding an enigmatic twist to the remarkable story of Sol Butler, the forgotten champion.

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