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Black America Library Series

Our Series

Our Visual Library Series serves as a powerful antidote to attacks on diversity, Black history studies, Critical Race Theory (CRT), and books by Black Authors by providing a comprehensive perspective on American History.

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They highlight the often-overlooked contributions and experiences of Black individuals and organizations, promoting inclusivity and challenging stereotypes.

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They foster a deep understanding of the Black American Experience, encouraging open dialogue and ultimately promoting a society where diversity and racial justice are celebrated, not attacked.

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  • Writer's pictureT. Brookshire

From Barefoot Sprinter to Trailblazing Judge: The Howard P. Drew Story




Howard P. Drew was a man who broke color barriers as a World War I soldier, Olympic athlete, and the first black judge in Connecticut.



BACKGROUND

Drew was born in the crucible of segregation in 1890 in Lexington, Va. His parents wanted to shield him from the clutches of Jim Crow South so they re-settled in Springfield, Connecticut. In the sultry summer of 1905, when Drew was 15, he decided to sneak off to the Fourth of July “Springfield City Games” to compete in the annual track and field competition. Not having any money to properly outfit himself, he sewed his own track uniform from one of his mother’s “borrowed” bed sheets. And his spike racing shoes were the product of ingenuity, fashioned from tennis shoes and roofing nails driven through their soles. He would end up winning the 100-yard dash, but the nails hurt his feet so much that Drew decided to run the 440-yard dash in his bare feet on a cinder track and took first place in that race as well. He later recalled that running on the cinders (fragments of volcano rock) was even worse than running with his make-shift spikes since both felt like he was running on glass mingled with fire.


Drew entered Springfield High School in 1906 as one of very few black students, but dropped out his freshman year to help support his family working as a bellhop. Not to be denied an education and determines to graduate, he reentered high school in 1910 at the age of 20. There, he played baseball, was a star running back on the football team and was already acknowledged as one of the nation’s fastest sprinters.






OLYMPIC HOPES

He was just that good. Drew eventually qualified for two different Summer Olympics in 1912 and 1916. Drew was heavily favored to win the 100-and 200-meter events in the Stockholm 1912 Olympics but actually tore his tendon in the semifinals 100-meter event. He was confident that he had one more shot at gold medal in the 1916 Summer Olympics, but it was cancelled because of World War I.





After the Stockholm Olympics 1912, Drew went on to be a collegiate athlete at the University of Southern California. During his college days between 1913 and 1916, Drew tied or set every world record from 30 to 250 yards. Not only that, he was also a Straight-A student. During this time, he broke the 100-yard meter dash in 9.6 seconds on March, 28, 1914 to help him earn the title of the original “Fastest Man on Earth".





SERVING HIS COUNTRY

As a soldier, Drew entered World War I in 1918 as a private in the Supply Company, 809th Pioneer Infantry Regiment, in the 88th Division of the U.S. Army. During his time in the war, he helped and trained the U.S. track team in the Inter-Allied Games, an Olympic-style competition between the Allied troops. He was honorably discharged in 1919 as a first sergeant.


LEGAL TRIUMPHS

After not being able to compete in the 1920 Olympics due to his aging body (30 years old), Drew decided to go back to focusing on his education. He began to study law at Drake University. Once he earned his degree, he passed the Connecticut bar exam and became a lawyer in Hartford, making him one of the first African Americans to become one in the state. To add to his accolades, he became the first African American city clerk and also police judge in the state of Connecticut.


LEGACY

Howard P. Drew passed away on Feb. 19, 1957 at the U.S. Veterans Hospital in West Haven, Connecticut. He embodied the "total package"—an athlete, Olympian, record-breaker, Civil Rights advocate, track coach, scholar, author, attorney, and judge. In his remarkable odyssey, Howard P. Drew carved a path through history, leaving behind footprints of hope and an unwavering belief in the triumph of the human spirit. Although he had a unique life, there hasn’t been much recognition to honor him but today we want to salute such a remarkable man.

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