Brother John Woodruff. University of Pittsburg Archives photo
Continued from homepage
History also highlights a parallel between African American successes in the sports arena and Alpha Phi Alpha's leadership in athletics. Early African Americans excelled as jockeys when introduced to horse racing; became celebrated champions after entering the boxing ring and putting on the gloves; and excelled in baseball when introduced to "America's favorite sports pastime." Added to those sports accomplishments is the fact that many of the pioneering athletes who won Olympic medals for the United States in the early 20th century were members of Alpha Phi Alpha.
This online version of the "Alpha Phi Alpha and the Olympic Games" article presents a snapshot of the heroic feats of Alpha Brothers who participated in the politically-charged 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin, Germany.
The Berlin Olympics
Adolph Hitler's military advances on the European continent around the time of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany set the climate for what many later referred to as the "Hitler Olympics." In spite of the arduous circumstances, a number of Alpha Brothers who participated in the Games preserved and represented their country with dignity, intensity and tenacity.
Joining Brother Ralph Metcalfe at the 1936 Olympic Games was Brother Frederick "Fritz" Pollard, Jr. – the son of Brother Frederick Douglass "Fritz" Pollard, Sr., the first African American head coach in the NFL – who earned a bronze medal in the 110 meter hurdles. Brother Cornelius Johnson won a gold medal in the 1936 Olympics high jump competition and Brother Dave Albritton won a silver medal in the high jump. Further, Brother Archibald "Archie" Williams earned a gold medal in the 400 meter race and Brother John Woodruff won a gold medal in the 800 meter race. Perhaps the most noted Alpha Olympian of all times, Brother Jesse Owens, won four gold medals during the Berlin Games – winning medals in the 100 meter dash, 200 meter race, 4x100 meter relay and the long jump.
It has often been stated that Brother Owens' gold medal wins humiliated Hitler by proving to the world that Nazi claims of Aryan superiority was a lie and as a result the German leader snubbed Jesse Owens at the 1936 Games. However, Jesse Owens' reception by the German public and spectators in the Olympic stadium was warm. The German audience's cheers of "Yesseh Oh-vens" ("Jesse Owens") or simply "Oh-vens" ("Owens") were overwhelming. Brother Owens was a true celebrity in Berlin where he was mobbed by autograph seekers. He later claimed that his reception in Berlin was greater than any other he had ever experienced.
Brother Andrew Stanfield. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Archives photo
Hitler did shun an African American athlete at the Berlin Games; however, it was not Jesse Owens. On the opening day of the Olympics – just before Brother Cornelius Johnson won the first gold medal for the U.S. that day and was to receive his award – Hitler left the stadium early. Prior to his departure, Hitler had received a number of winners. Olympic officials later informed the German leader that in the future he must receive all of the winners or none at all. After the first day, he opted to acknowledge none of the athletes.
Ironically, the real snub of Jesse Owens came from his own President who never publicly acknowledged Brother Owens' achievements. Almost two decades passed before an American President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, honored Brother Owens by naming him "Ambassador of Sports" – in 1955. More recently, the Adidas athletic footwear company has honored Brother Owens' tremendous accomplishments by giving him a running shoe. Brother Owens was wearing track shoes made by a German company from which Adidas and Puma later evolved at the time of his Olympic feats.
Generations of Olympic Success
In addition to those named above, a number of other athletes who are members of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternities have competed in the Olympic Games – many of them little known contenders who did not win medals at the Games. The Fraternity and its members – as shown in these brief examples – have had a leadership role in every arena of American life, as African Americans fought for freedom and equality. Dating back to a time when the proving ground for African Americans was the sports arena and during the community's period of greatest challenges, as Brother Harold Sims has so eloquently stated, "Alphamen led the way in achieving competitive glory for the nation as well as racial pride for black America."
Alpha Phi Alpha's Olympic athletes listed in this article, along with those other Alpha Olympians whose names were not mentioned, exemplify the meaning of the Fraternity’s motto: "First of All, Servants of All, We Shall Transcend All."