Kelley Dolphus Stroud might have been an Olympic champion if it wasn’t for his skin color.
It was 1928, and Stroud, the only black student at Colorado College until his sister joined him a year later, was qualifying for a US Olympic test spot in the 5,000-meter dash. It was a victory to celebrate until he was told there would be no funding for him to travel to Boston for the Olympic Trials because of racism.
“People said to him, that’s life,” said his great-nephew Frank Shines. “And to recognize that and focus on his activities at CC.”
But Dolphus, who went by his middle name, was undaunted. He decided to hitchhike to Boston in mid-July.
“He walked most of the 2,000 miles,” Shines said. “It was mostly dirt roads and mostly buggies. He would ride in a buggy and get upset at how slow they drove. He said I can run faster, so he got out. Otherwise he said I would never make it in time.”
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Dolphus arrived six hours before the scheduled match. Crushed, starved and exhausted, he collapsed on his sixth round and watched his Olympic dream fizzle out.
Inspired by his life, RACE is a new opera influenced by jazz, R&B, gospel and hip-hop. It is the brainchild of Shines, a dramaturge who, along with Springs librettists Idris Goodwin and Ashley Cornelius, and Athena Azevedo, João MacDowell and Christina Morgan, art directors of the International Brazilian Opera Company, brought the entire opera to stages in Paris, New York, will bring the city and the springs in 2024.
In association with Pioneers Museum and IBOC, members of the Stroud family will present a free workshop performance of the opera at the museum on Saturday. Registration is required. Go online to cspm.org.
“The Stroud family is known for studying classical music and literature,” Shines said. “Everyone had to have an instrument that they played. Opera is the sportiest performance of all the performing arts. We brought home athletics and a discipline that represented Dolphus and his journey.”
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Goodwin, a prolific playwright who most recently served as director of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, and Cornelius, Pikes Peak Poet Laureate of the Pikes Peak Library District, were chosen to write the opera after months of interviews.
The story of Dolphus moved Cornelius.
“Knowing how good you are and being able to prove it, but you have limited resources and you have to walk most of the time to somewhere to prove it,” she said. “And he failed, but that doesn’t take away from all the work. It’s a process, not a product. If you don’t achieve the greatest goal, that doesn’t mean it’s over. That doesn’t mean you haven’t started a legacy.”
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Dolphus was one of 11 children born to Rev. KD (Kimball Dolphus) Stroud and Lulu McGee Stroud, who moved the family from the Oklahoma Territory to the Springs in 1910 in hopes of leaving prejudice and oppression behind. Dolphus attended Bristol School and Colorado Springs High School (now Palmer High School), where his skin color prevented him from walking. He also won the Pikes Peak Marathon several times, even breaking the record in 1928.
After returning from his devastating, failed trip East, Dolphus earned a degree in Political Science from CC and moved to Forsyth, Georgia to work at State Teachers and Agricultural College as a track and field coach and political science teacher. He later earned a master’s degree from the University of Mexico with a thesis on black history in the United States and eventually moved to Portland, Oregon. He died in 1975.
Shines has never met his relative but has heard the stories of the humble but confident athlete and academic. As he dug deeper into his relatives, he found many similarities between them, including their interest in mathematics, science, and physics. This realization inspired Shines while he was at the Air Force Academy, where he trained and competed with Olympic athletes on the AFA’s men’s gymnastics team.
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“I saw so much of him in me,” Shines said. “He knew how to brand and market himself. He spent time developing relationships with the press to get his story out there. He understands the power of the written word and of history. He understood that this was historical in a way.”
Contact the author: 636-0270
Contact the author: 636-0270