1936 Berlin Olympics: Meet the 18 African Americans Who Participated in the Games
At the 1936 Olympics, in Berlin, Germany, 18 African American’s challenged discrimination on the world stage. The unprecedented effort is largely unknown. “One of the great tragedies of this story is that you have 18 athletes [who competed],” says Deborah Draper who wrote, directed, and produced the documentary, Olympic Pride, American Prejudice. “One of them is remembered.”
It wasn’t only Jesse Owens, you ask?
When the Berlin games conclude, America’s Black athletes have dominated the events, including eight gold medals.
Track & Field
Fritz Pollard, Jr.
Matthew “Mack” Robinson
Women’s Track & Field
Pictured here are nine of the 18 African American athletes on their way to compete in Berlin in 1936 as part of the U.S. team. L-R, standing: Dave Albritton (High Jump Silver Medalist; Cornelius Johnson (High Jump Gold Medalist); Tidye Pickett (80m Hurdles); Ralph Metcalfe (100m Silver Medalist, 4x100m Gold Medalist); Jimmy Clark (Boxing); Mack Robinson (200m Silver Medalist). Background, between Clark & Robinson: Willis Johnson (Boxing). Kneeling: John Terry (Weightlifting); John Brooks (Broad Jump).
Photo credit: Olympic Pride, American Prejudice LLC
Jimmy LuValle (far right)
Jesse Owens (L)
Ralph Metcalfe (R)
The United States narrative about the 1936 Olympics is about one African American. His name is Jesse Owens. Black newspapers sing the praises of 18 Black athletes.
But the mainstream press focuses on Owens.
His four gold medals become legendary, an important tool
in America’s propaganda campaign.
Fritz Pollard, Jr.
African American Olympians on board the SS Manhattan en route to Berlin. L-R: James LuValle, 400m Bronze Medalist; Archie Williams, 400m Gold Medalist; John Woodruff, 800m Gold Medalist; Cornelius Johnson, High Jump Gold Medalist; Mack Robinson, 200m Silver Medalist. Photo credit: Olympic Pride, American Prejudice LLC
Louise Stokes (3rd from left top row), Tidye Pickett far right, top row
John Terry (3rd from left)
photo credit: Alchertron, free social encyclopedia
The American narrative about the 1936 Olympics is about one African American and his name is Jesse Owens. Like most narratives, there’s more to the story. Black newspapers sing the praises of the 18 Black athletes.
But the mainstream press focuses on Owens. His four gold medals become legendary, an important tool in America’s propaganda campaign. “The exploitative concentration on a ‘single hero vs. Hitler,’ pushes the other Black teammates into the background. And ultimately, out of the story,” writes documentary director Deborah Draper. “If you won a bronze medal in the hurdles, that didn’t carry the same weight of the propaganda, ‘Jesse vs. Hitler.’”
“If anyone refused to shake Jesse Owens’ hand, it wasn’t [only] Adolph Hitler, it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” notes one history scholar in the documentary, Olympic Pride, American Prejudice. “During his 1936 presidential campaign, Roosevelt, then 32nd President of the United States, was virtually dependent on the Whites in the South for reelection. There was no way he was going to invite a negro – not even Jesse Owens – to the White House.”
After the games, Owens chose to sail home to the United States and not travel with the American team to other European cities to make money for the Amateur Athletic Union (A.A.U.). He wanted to capitalize on his success by returning to the United States to take up some of the more lucrative endorsement offers that had come his way. Avery Brundage, President of the International Olympic Committee at that time (the only American to ever attain the position), was furious with Owens and stripped him of his amateur status. This immediately ended the Olympian’s career. After earning four gold medals on behalf of the United States, Owens could no longer compete. Among other ways to earn money, he ran staged matches against racehorses.
“They came back to a country that they represented successfully, and the country turned its back on them, closed its eyes and wanted them to drift off and go away.”
Deborah Draper, author and documentary filmmaker of
Olympic Pride, American Prejudice