Bruce helps to induct Cleveland Abbott into the SD Hall of Fame

Long before there was a Venus or Serena Williams, Labron James, Carl Lewis or a Jackie Robinson, a man born into Alabama slavery, would help create athletes and change our lives.

Because of hard economic times, the former slave, Albert Abbott, and his bride, Mollie, would move to South Dakota to raise a family.

Their oldest child, Cleveland Abbott, was born near Yankton to 1894 life disadvantages, most of us would not fully understand today.

At an early age, Cleveland Abbott trained his body, like he trained his mind.

Cleveland Abbott excelled in everything he attempted.

South Dakotans who know of Cleveland Abbott, know his amazing local sports scorecard.

For the Abbotts and our ancestors, there was no separate but equal in South Dakota, the hard prairie life, was equally hard for all.

As a 19 year old, Cleveland Abbott’s academic and sports reputation was enough, for Tuskegee Institute’s founder, Booker T. Washington, (yes, the Booker T. Washington) to recruit him to quietly lead an effort to help break American Jim Crow segregation through sports.

This child, brought up with the South Dakota idea he could do anything, would find ways to create possibilities for young men and women not allowed to dream.

Likely shocking his parents, this oldest child of the former slave, would return to their Alabama roots, to help break American segregation.

Cleveland Abbott used all the education and skills honed in Watertown and at South Dakota State, to give him the ability to know the value of a person is not color based.

South Dakota gave Cleveland Abbott opportunities and experiences he would not have had, growing up in the deep south.

With his wife Jessie, Cleveland Abbott created the first organized women’s college athletic programs.

He created opportunities for all students modeled on the programs he participated in as a kid in South Dakota. His Tuskegee teams, then went on to rule national track and field events for decades.

The Tuskegee athletic programs and especially the Relays, were created to showcase all young men and women. They became the model for what we now experience at every NCAA event.

Cleveland Abbott created opportunities for talented student athletes without regard for race.

Cleveland Abbott, created a model for the modern, color blind world of international sports.

It was not a fluke, that within months of taking over Tuskegee’s football team, Cleveland Abbott and the Golden Tigers were national champions.

This was accomplished several more times over the next 32 years.

Cleveland Abbott inspired kids who had nothing, to feel like they could help change the world, by their dreams and actions.

His students went on to become world leaders using the example he lived.

The world wanted his students and Cleveland Abbott to teach the rest of us how to be successful.

As a result, the revered the Duke of Dakota, Cleveland Abbott, was asked to be the first black member of the USA Track and Field Board.

By 1946, he was selected to be a member of the U S Olympic Committee.

His humble South Dakota beginnings stayed with him.

He honors us all through his excellence.

In his short life, he was able to blend raw talent, with a superb mind, to help break the rules of American segregation.

The quiet excellence and dignity of Cleveland Abbott should teach all of us, what one brave person can do to change the world.

On behalf of the South Dakota African American History Museum, located in Sioux Falls, it is an honor to accept this induction of Cleveland Abbott, not for himself, but as he would have asked, on behalf of his students.

While his national championships created a scorecard, Cleveland Abbott’s life was an example of a true champion, a South Dakota champion.

1 comment so far ↓

#1 JKC on 10.09.18 at 1:31 pm

Good job Bruce!