The memoir “Walking Alone: The Untold Journey of Football Pioneer Kenny Washington” descriptively tells the story of Washington and his accomplishments on and off the football field. Washington is known for breaking the color barrier in the NFL when he signed with the Los Angeles Rams in 1946.
What allured author Dan Taylor to write the memoir was stories he heard from people who witnessed his athleticism firsthand. In those stories, they noted how Washington was a better football and baseball player than his UCLA teammate, MLB icon Jackie Robinson.
“When I got in there and really started reading about [Washington], the Sentinel and other resources, I was amazed; this may have been the greatest football player of all time who obviously didn’t get the opportunity to showcase those skills,” Taylor said. “There were three different times when he was the central figure in attempts to integrate professional baseball.”
To research Washington, Taylor relied on articles from several periodicals, including the L.A. Times, the Pittsburgh Courier, the Oakland Tribune, UCLA’s Daily Bruin, the California Eagle, and the L.A. Sentinel. Accessing the library and sports information office at Washington’s alma mater, UCLA, was a challenge for Taylor during the Quarantine of 2020.
Another challenge was finding subjects to interview. If Washington were alive, he would be 104. His son Kenny Washington Jr. along with teammate Woody Strode and his children have passed away. However, Washington’s daughter Karin Cohen and grandson Kirk Washington helped him.
Taylor also interviewed the daughters of Babe Horrell, who coached both Washington and Robinson along with the son-in-law and wife of Washington’s UCLA teammate Ned Mathews. Taylor noted that Horrell’s daughters had “wonderful stories” about Washington.
“They just idolized [Washington],” Taylor said. “Their dad would have the team to the house, and they had some wonderful memories of that.”
Along with recounting Washington’s football and baseball games in vivid detail, “Walking Alone” touches upon his career as an actor.
“The movie opportunity “While Thousands Cheer,” it was clearly based on his popularity and it was written for him to star in,” Taylor said.
The book also highlights Washington’s relationship with Robinson. Due to word limitations, Taylor was unable to share how Washington would attend Robinson’s football games when he attended Pasadena City College.
“[Washington] was a guy who would go and watch [Robinson] play and come back and tell the UCLA coaches “We have to have him, this is the guy we have to have,”” Taylor said.
Washington still holds the Rams record for the longest touchdown run from scrimmage with a 92-yard carry which was set back in 1947. Researching Sentinel articles gave Taylor proof that UCLA had five African American football players in 1939 when other publications only recorded four.
“In 1939, I mentioned only 12 schools had integrated football teams and most of them, almost all of them had just a single African American player, but UCLA had five,” Taylor said. “The Sentinel was a key part of nailing down they had five, there was a picture the Sentinel had.”