Welcome to the Frank Kinney Holbrook Memorial Society! Bringing awareness about American sports history.
The son of a runaway slave, Frank “Kinney” Holbrook was born in Tipton, Iowa on June 29, 1877. He was a gifted athlete, excelling in football, and becoming the first state champion in the town’s storied track and field program. Holbrook wasn’t just a pioneer in sports, however, but also by all accounts an exemplary student. Humble and diligent, he was particularly adept in mathematics and became the first Black graduate of Tipton High School in 1895. During his commencement address, Holbrook spoke of the ongoing struggle of Black Americans, through the atrocities of slavery and continuing beyond. It was said to be a speech full of noble thought.
Following his high school graduation, Holbrook was given the opportunity to continue his academic and athletic career at the State University of Iowa (now known as the University of Iowa.) Learning that his family wouldn’t be able to afford tuition, community members in Tipton rallied to pool enough money to pay his way. Holbrook enrolled in the fall of 1895 and joined the football team, making him the first Black collegiate athlete in Iowa history. He would further this feat by becoming a two sport athlete, joining the track and field squad as a shot putter the following spring.
While his freshman season of football passed without much acclaim, in 1896 the hire of new head coach Alfred E. Bull prompted Holbrook to change positions from end to half back, where he became an immediate star. Holbrook led the team to levels of success it had never known, blazing a path through Western Conference foes, and an eventual conference title- the first ever for the school. A pivotal game that season with rival Missouri, however, may have proven Holbrook’s finest hour. For it was then, coming to a societal intersection where athletics met unabashed racism, that Holbrook’s remarkable display of inner strength and courage opened doors for all who came after.
The game was in Columbia that year, and tensions were boiling long before kickoff, as citing his race, Missouri alumni had called for a boycott if Holbrook was allowed to play. Coach Bull wasn’t having it, and insisted his star would take the field. Through the contest Holbrook endured countless cheap shots and was berated with racial epithets and death threats from opposing players and fans. The sidelines nearly devolved to a riot as spectators, some armed with clubs and chains, threatened to rush the field, enraged by Holbrook’s participation. Young Holbrook fought through it all with grit and determination, scoring a touchdown to help secure a 12-0 win. It was a victory that went far beyond the field that day.
For reasons now lost to history, Holbrook would not return to college the following year. He came home to Tipton and became the head high school football coach, perhaps the first Black man to serve this role in the state, and likely one of the first in the nation. A few years later he would move to California, where he took work as a blacksmith in the Los Angeles area.
Frank “Kinney” Holbrook died of a heart attack on October 29, 1916. He probably never understood the tremendous impact of his life, but in his many pioneering achievements new chapters were written in Iowa history, and in the fight for American equality. His spirit, courage and determination live on in the opportunities and accomplishments of all who would follow.
The Frank “Kinney” Holbrook Memorial Society was established in 2020 after a group of Tipton friends began discussing Holbrook’s incredible story, and realized more must be done to celebrate and recognize this amazing person from our hometown. We set goals of raising awareness of Holbrook and his achievements through outreach and education, and of continuing Tipton’s legacy as a progressive community built on values of equality, and that is supportive and inclusive to all. In 2021 we joined with the Cedar County Historical Society, a merger that allowed us to gain immediate 501(c)(3) non-profit status, and will insure longevity of our mission and all projects to come.
The mission of the Frank “Kinney” Holbrook Memorial Society is to honor the extraordinary achievement of this Tipton native and University of Iowa athletics pioneer. Through fundraising and advocacy we strive to carry on the legacy of accomplishment and resilience embodied by Holbrook, raising awareness of his remarkable story as a trailblazing Black athlete and coach in the post-Civil War era. Our work will memorialize Holbrook, address racial inequality, create educational opportunity, and encourage community pride.
Among our initial goals was to address a long standing oversight that left Frank “Kinney” Holbrook out of the University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame. We are very pleased to announce that with our inquiries, and the diligent work of others, this has now been rectified and Holbrook will be inducted as a member of the 2021 Hall of Fame class. There will be an official ceremony in Iowa City on September 3, and we’re proud to say that one of our members, Quinn Early, will represent Holbrook during the induction.
Looking ahead, fundraising is now underway for our next major endeavor- which is to commission a Frank “Kinney” Holbrook statue to be placed in Tipton. We will host a red carpet gala in the community on September 5th, featuring Quinn’s new documentary “The Shoulders of Giants”, with all proceeds going to this project. Plans are also in the works to establish a scholarship in Holbrook’s honor, focused on assisting minority and low-income students in their pursuit of higher academic goals. In the future we hope to develop curriculum to be implemented in lesson plans for Tipton schools and throughout Iowa, and educational materials for public outreach at historical sites. We will also seek opportunities to advocate on behalf of social justice, and continue with historical research to further piece together Holbrook’s story, and to better understand the world he lived in.
Please join us in welcoming former Hawkeye and NFL star Quinn Early, Executive Producer Ben Sheeler, Producer Cameron Early, and former and current Hawkeyes in celebrating the trailblazing contributions of Tipton’s own Frank “Kinney” Holbrook, and the release of the new Quinn Early documentary “The Shoulders of Giants”
"We're joining the fun this year at the 12th annual FRYfest, on Sept 3rd, celebrating all things Hawkeye and sharing the Frank "Kinney" Holbrook story. Look for our booth at the trade show from 10-8; if you're there be sure to stop by and give us a big GO HAWKS!"
Thank you for your generous donation!
If you have any questions about Frank “Kinney” Holbrook or the work of our organization, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org You can also support our efforts by making a donation through the link above, and follow our progress by subscribing to our newsletter through the form at the bottom of this page. Thank you for your interest, and we look forward to sharing all of the big things to come!
Tipton, Iowa, United States
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