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(19??, Springfield, Illinois (?) - 19??), Track and Field, 1938-1940
Ed Smith, Wisconsin's top hurdler in the late 1930s, was the first African-American Badger to win an individual Big Ten Track and Field title since Olympian George Poage in 1904. Smith won three varsity letters at UW and competed in the 1940 NCAA championships. His career in Madison was most notable, however, for the strong stand against segregation that the University made on his behalf in 1939.
Smith, a native of Springfield, Illinois, entered the University of Wisconsin in 1936. The son of a journalist, he studied physical education in Madison, and participated in athletics throughout his stay in Wisconsin. He ran freshman track and then moved onto the varsity team for three seasons.
He specialized in the short hurdle events, routinely winning points for Wisconsin in the 120-yard and 220-yard hurdles. In the 1939 season, Smith was the second-leading scorer for the Badgers (trailing only UW's legendary miler Walter Mehl), and he placed first, second, or third in each of the team's meets during the season.
The 1939 season, however, was marred by the intrusion of the color line in Wisconsin's schedule. The University of Missouri had invited the Badgers and Notre Dame University to a triangular track meet to be held at Mizzou in April of that year. Several weeks before the meet, however Missouri athletic officials notified UW Coach Tom Jones that Wisconsin would not be permitted to enter any African-American athletes in competition at Columbia.
Before Coach Jones could respond, the Jim Crow demands of Missouri electrified the campus in Madison. The student body and the faculty senate rallied to Smith's defense and urged the Badgers to withdraw from the meet. After consulting with the athletic board, Coach Jones and Wisconsin President Clarence Dykstra announced that UW would not take part in the segregated contest. [For the complete story click here]
Smith rebounded from the controversy and returned to campus in 1940 for an even more successful season. He continued to be one of the team's leaders and captured the Big Ten title in the 120-yard hurdles. He followed up this performance with a second-place finish at the NCAA championships and helped UW to a fifth-place finish at the national competition.
Smith did not graduate with his class, and he never received a degree from the University of Wisconsin. His activities after 1940 are unknown, and his subsequent career is a mystery.
Gregory Bond, Ph.D.
History, University of Wisconsin