William DeHart Hubbard (“DeHart”) was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 25, 1903. He graduated from Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati and later attended the University of Michigan. DeHart’s progression to the University of Michigan is an interesting story. He came to the U of M via a newspaper subscription contest and the ingenuity of Mr. LonBarringer, also a Michigan alum. Mr. Barringer, a West Virginia businessman, learned about DeHart from the Cincinnati newspapers. Lon was fully aware of DeHart’s extraordinary athletic abilities and strong academic record and was determined to bring him to Michigan. Before bringing DeHart to the University, however, Lon had to discuss the opportunity with his good friend and fellow West Virginian, Fielding H. Yost. Yost was an iron-willed football coach who had prevented black athletes from playing football for Michigan since 1901. In 1921, Yost was appointed Director of Athletics, which drastically changed his regard for black athletes, and he gave Lon the approval for DeHart’s recruitment to the Michigan Track and Field team.
With the approval from Yost, Lon began to execute a plan that would land DeHart on the University of Michigan campus. The Cincinnati Enquirer was running a subscription contest. The 10 high school students in the area who could procure the greatest numbe rof new subscriptions would be awarded a $3,000 college scholarship to attend the schoolof their choice. Lon persuaded DeHart to enter the contest and vowed that if he attended Michigan, every effort would be made to ensure that he won the contest. DeHart agreed.
Nearly every Michigan alumnus in the United States got a letter from Barringer on the subject of DeHart. Many subscribed, including people in Ann Arbor and Detroit, to say nothing of the Cincinnati boosters. For example, Branch Rickey, then owner of the St.Louis Cardinals baseball team, subscribed. In September 1921, William DeHart Hubbard became the contest winner and enrolled at the University of Michigan.
Upon DeHart’s arrival on campus, he immediately lived up to his reputation. He tied the University’s indoor 50-yard-dash record and long-jumped 24 feet, 63/4 inches, infreshman competition. Because freshmen were ineligible for varsity meets, the only opportunity to really prove himself came in the national AAU meet in Newark, NewJersey, where DeHart excelled.
As a sophomore, DeHart set Big Ten marks in the 50-yard dash. In his junior year, hebrought Big Ten crowns in the 100-yard dash (9.8 seconds) and the long jump (24 feet,103/4 inches). That would earn him an opportunity to make the U.S. Olympic team and compete in the 1924 Paris Olympics.
At the Paris Olympics, athletes were given three preliminary trials, and those with the better marks received three final trials. On DeHart’s second jump, he made the finals. On his sixth and final jump, still trailing in the competition, he started down the runway. In stride and gaining speed, he hit the take-off board well and landed 24 feet, 5 inches, down the continent, well beyond the field of challengers, and into the international limelight. In that moment, William DeHart Hubbard became the first black American to win a gold medal in an individual Olympic event and etched his name on the honor roll of Michigan’s greatest athletes of all time.
Upon his return to Michigan, DeHart flashed to victory in the sprints, hurdles, and long jump, leading the 1925 Maize and Blue to Big Ten titles in both the indoor and outdoor meets. During the course of the season, he tied the world record in the100-yard dash (9.6 seconds) against Ohio State at Ferry Field, as well as setting a long-jump world record of 25 feet, 10 3/4 inches (7.89m), at the NCAA championshipsin Chicago in June 1925.
DeHart completed his illustrious collegiate career by graduating with honors from the University of Michigan; being a three-time track-and-field National Collegiate Athletic Association champion (i.e., All American); being a seven-time track-and-field Big Ten Conference champion; and being an active member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc.− Phi Chapter (where he was initiated in 1924).
Later in Life
After graduating from the U of M in 1927, DeHart took a job as supervisor of the Department of Colored Work for Cincinnati’s Public Recreation Commission. He worked for the Recreation Commission until 1941, when he became manager of Valley Homes. In 1942, DeHart moved to Cleveland to work for the Federal Public Housing Authority. He retired in 1969.
In 1957, William DeHart Hubbard was voted into the National Track Hall of Fame. He died in Cleveland on June 23, 1976, and was posthumously inducted into the University of Michigan Hall of Fame in 1979. The William DeHart Hubbard Memorial Scholarship was endowed in 2010. Please consider making a gift to honor DeHart's legacy and ensure all students have access to an exceptional education at the University of Michigan.