Fridays With Fred: Eddie May’42, one of Beloit College’s finest athletes

College Archivist Emeritus Fred Burwell’86 has generously agreed to restart his ever-popular “Fridays With Fred” posts in honor of Beloit’s 175th anniversary. Every week this spring, Fred will unearth photos and stories about Beloit and share them here. His first new post is on Eddie May, class of 1942.

Eddie May in his football uniform

Dig into Beloit College history and you’ll find countless examples of fascinating people who made a lasting mark, whether it be in the sciences, literature, the arts, or countless other disciplines. One of the reasons I loved working in the Beloit College Archives was discovering – and sometimes uncovering – their stories.

Some of those Beloiters thrived, even when the odds seemed to be against them, including Eddie May, class of 1942. He was one of Beloit College’s finest athletes, ever, and succeeded in an era when only a handful of Black students attended the college, none of them living on campus. He was born in Macon, Mississippi, but like so many African Americans in the teens and 1920s, May’s family trekked north, where his father hired on at Fairbanks-Morse and Co. in Beloit.

Eddie May playing in the 1940 Beloit versus Lawrence Homecoming game

At Beloit High School, Eddie May’s athletic prowess was on full display. As a forward, he helped lead the school’s basketball team to a state championship in 1937 and was an all-star in Big Eight basketball and football, and also starred in statewide track meets. Clearly, Beloit College coaches must have drooled at the thought of recruiting a local athlete of May’s caliber, and, in the fall of 1938, May joined the college’s “Blue Devils” and lettered in basketball, football, and track, while also succeeding as a student.

Although he co-captained the basketball team, it was in football that he achieved his greatest fame. A spectacular touchdown against the University of Chicago at Stagg Field, on September 30, 1939, led the Chicago Tribune to declare in huge letters: “Mr. May of Beloit Covers Lots of Ground on the Midway.” The sportswriter described May and a couple of other teammates as “big ground gainers” [who] “drove, danced, and skipped through the arms of tacklers time after time…” Beloit’s 6-0 victory embarrassed Chicago in front of 5000 fans. The Maroons had won six Big Ten championships and had not lost to Beloit in its previous dozen matchups. Chicago dropped football at the end of the season and it’s intriguing to ponder whether their defeat at the hands of tiny Beloit provided the impetus.

Eddie May featured in the Chicago Tribune

May’s athletic exploits continued to make top-of-the-sports-page headlines throughout the Midwest, but his Beloit career ended prematurely when the United States entered World War Two. After Officers Training School, May served as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, stationed in Europe. Fairbanks-Morse ran a series of ads in the Beloit Daily News, promoting their part in the war effort. One of them featured foundry worker, Ellis May, Sr., along with portraits of Eddie May and three of his brothers serving in the military.

Eddie May with father and brothers in WWII promotion

Eddie May passed away in France on May 26, 1945, only weeks after VE Day. He was among the first inductees into the Beloit Historical Society’s Sports Hall of Fame. Beloit College inducted Eddie May into its Athletic Hall of Honor in 1964. His plaque reads, in part: “Eddie May was both an inspiration to his teammates, and an idol of Beloit school children and athletes.”

February 17, 2021

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