Fred “Duke” Slater (’28) may be one of the most underrated athletes in American sports history. He was the greatest African-American football player of the first half of the 20th century, and was widely recognized in his era as one of the most powerful men to ever step on the gridiron.
Neal Rozendaal, an author who received a degree in economics, statistics, and political science from the University of Iowa in 2002, recently wrote a book about Slater’s life entitled, “Duke Slater: Pioneering Black NFL Player and Judge.”
Slater enrolled at the University of Iowa just before World War I, and it was in Iowa City that he achieved his greatest fame. Under the instruction of Coach Howard Jones, Slater developed into one of the greatest linemen ever to play college football. He was a three-time all-Big Ten selection and a two-time All-American at Iowa, and he served as a centerpiece on four outstanding Hawkeye football teams.
As a scholar, he returned to Iowa in his football off-seasons and earned a law degree from the University of Iowa in 1928. He remained in Chicago after his retirement from football and began a long career as an attorney on the South Side. Slater served as an inspiration for other young African-Americans. As a famous former football player and a wealthy attorney, he earned the respect and admiration of black and white audiences alike.
The admiration culminated with his election in 1948 to the Cook County Circuit Court. Duke Slater was just the second African-American to be elected as a judge in the city of Chicago. He served Chicago for almost two decades as a jurist, presiding over the crowded courts of the South Side.