The 2016 Olympic Games may have concluded earlier this week, but the planet is still buzzing about the Simones (Simone Biles and Simone Manuel), Daryl D. Homer and other black American Olympians who rocked in Rio over the past month.
They kicked butt and deserve every morsel of accolades they receive.
Sadly, receiving worldwide acclaim wasn’t always the case when it came to black Americans and the Olympic Games.
Eighty years ago, the US sent 18, yes, 18, black Americans — two women and 16 men — to compete in the 1936 Olympc Games in Berlin. I knew that Jesse Owens competed and won the gold, ticking off detractors, including German leader Adolf Hitler. But, I was unaware of the 17 other black Americans who crossed the pond with him until watching the documentary “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice.”
“Those 18 African American members of the U.S. Olympic team have represented this nation. They all are the ones who paved the way for us who are here today. And we need to respect what they did. We need to understand their experiences. To not be treated equally, must’ve been a horrible feeling and yet they persevered,” explained Anita DeFrantz, who won a bronze medal as captain of the U.S. women’s rowing team at the 1976 Olympics.
“Olympic Pride, American Prejudice” gives an overview of the hurdles and successes these 18 black Americans experienced to become a part of the 400-member 1936 U.S. Olympic team. Their stories are equally astonishing and heartbreaking. Some were overlooked for top spots in favor of less qualified white teammates, others worked menial jobs after the Games and faded into obscurity while some went on to history in other ways. However, they all faced the brutality of American racism when they returned home.
“It all goes back to 1936. You know, all of the years where they fought a different fight than we fight. They fought, too. They fought to win and to compete and to train, but they fought just to survive, just to be welcomed,” Joanna Hayes, 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist and UCLA Assistant Track Coach.
Barbaric and hateful acts aside, I smiled when film revealed how supportive these Olympians were toward each other and the special friendships that were forged. Though competitors, Owens and Dave Albritton were best friends until the former’s death. And Louise Stokes’s vowing to win gold after her friend and teammate Tidye Pickett was sent home after an injury is the true meaning of sisterhood. Pickett and Stokes, who both participated in the 1932 Olympics, were the only black American women to compete in Berlin.
“Everyone knows how hard it was of the men. Just imagine being a woman … with absolutely no support,” DeFrantz said in reference to Stokes being pulled from the U.S. Women’s 1x400m relay at an Olympic Games for the second time.
Deborah Riley wrote, directed and produced this film while Amy Tiemann, Michael A. Draper and Blair Underwood, who also serves as narrator, are its executive producers. It will be screened at the BronzeLens Film Festival in Atlanta this weekend. Not in Atlanta? No worries, you can watch “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice” below, where you also can see the names of the 18 black Americans who participated in the 1936 Games.
Black Americans Olympians from the 1936 Games
– Dave Albritton — High Jump (silver)
– John Brooks — Broad Jump
– James Clark — Boxing
– Cornelius Johnson — High Jump (gold)
– Willis Johnson — Boxing
– Howell King — Boxing
– James LuValle — 400m dash (bronze)
– Ralph Metcalfe — 100m dash (silver) and 4 x 100 meter relay (gold)
– Arthur “Art” Oliver — Boxing
– Jesse Owens — 100m dash, 200m dash, 4x100m relay and the long jump (gold for all)
– Tidye Pickett — 80m hurdles
– Fritz Pollard Jr. — 110m hurdles (bronze)
– Matthew “Mack” Robinson — 200m dash (silver)
– Louise Stokes — 4x100m relay
– John Terry — Weightlifter
– Archie Williams — 400m dash (gold)
– Jack Wilson — Boxer (silver)
– John Woodruff — 800m dash (gold)
WATCH: “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice”