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USC Track Legend Sped Through Life

“Howard P. Drew: Record Breaker … Rule Maker” will run from Feb. 27 to May 19 in Heritage Hall.

Photo/Howard P. Drew Family Collection

The late Howard P. Drew was the epitome of a scholar-athlete.

He earned straight A’s during his USC career � graduating in 1916 � and was named the Fastest Man in the World in 1914, 1915 and 1916 while competing on the Trojan track team.

He competed in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, was the first black man to write for USC’s newspaper and went on to become a groundbreaking lawyer and judge in Connecticut.

The legendary Trojan will be the focus of the 10th annual Black History Exhibition sponsored by USC’s Black Alumni Association and USC Athletics.

Photos, medals, championship urns, loving cups and other memorabilia are on display in “Howard P. Drew: Record Breaker … Rule Maker” from Feb. 27 to April 3 in Heritage Hall.

Drew’s son, Howard P. Drew Jr., an energetic 81-year-old who lives in Washington, D.C., will be visiting the campus for his first time, along with his wife, for the opening of the exhibit. He was an honored guest at the Feb. 19 USC track and field banquet at Town & Gown, where his father was inducted into the USC Track and Field Hall of Fame.

The Cardinal and Gold Invitational Track Meet, to be held April 1, has been designated Howard P. Drew Day. Competing at the meet will be USC, Texas A&M, the University of New Mexico and relay teams from Los Angeles city schools.

“Record Maker … Rule Maker” is the 10th annual exhibit in a series titled “Trojans of Ebony Hue” that is hosted by the Black Alumni Association.

The 2004 exhibit honored architect Paul R. Williams, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke was recognized in 2003.

The three-month-long exhibitions promote the historic value and contributions of black USC alumni, conveying “the powerful legacy of achievement and advancement that USC offers,” said Lura Ball, director of USC’s Office of Black Alumni Programs.

Howard Drew Sr., who died in 1957 at the age of 67, won his first track meet as a youngster in Springfield, Mass., wearing homemade shorts and shoes without spikes.

He made his first pair of track shoes by driving six nails through his regular shoes and promptly won the first race in which he wore them. A sprinter, he set world records in a half-dozen events, often scoring more points as an individual than an entire competing team would muster.

At the 1912 Olympics, he won both qualifying heats for the 100 meters before pulling a muscle and being unable to run in the finals.

At USC, he was a track standout, was the first black man inducted into the Skull & Dagger Society and had a bylined column in the campus newspaper, which was then called the Daily Southern Californian, as well as writing for the Los Angeles Express.

He wrote dozens of columns, his son said, on civil rights, physical fitness and the importance of studying and applying yourself.

“These are topics of discussion today, and he wrote about them 90 years ago,” Drew said.

At USC, he met author and political leader Booker T. Washington on a speaking tour and undertook a campaign with athletic manager Warren Bovard to bring football back to the West Coast. During the summers, he worked on the Southern Pacific Railroad as a waiter.

After earning his USC degree in pre-law and political science, Drew entered Drake Law School in Des Moines, Iowa, where he played football under Peter Glaze, his track coach from USC, after being ruled ineligible to compete in track for a year.

His law studies were interrupted by World War I. Entering the Army as a private, he became a sergeant and continued to run track and coach Army track teams in Nice, France.

In 1920, he graduated from law school, tried out unsuccessfully for the Olympics and passed the Ohio and Connecticut bar exams. He became an assistant clerk and a judge in Hartford, Conn., and was elected as a justice of the peace several times � all firsts for a black man in that state.

“Dad never talked much about his exploits,” his son said. “I’m finding out more about him now doing the research for the exhibit than I knew before.”

USC’s Ball and members of her staff have made several trips to his home to gather material for the exhibit, he said, and he is hearing stories about his father’s accomplishments that are new to him.

“And it’s all good!” he said.

The exhibit is free to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. It will be closed during spring break from March 13-18.

USC Track Legend Sped Through Life

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