Oldest African American Olympic medalist Herb Douglas celebrates 99th birthday
Herb Douglas won the bronze medal in the long jump at the 1948 Olympics in London. —TRIBUNE PHOTO / ABDUL R. SULAYMAN
by Donald Hunt , Philadelphia Tribune Staff Writer
Herb Douglas celebrated another milestone March 9, which was his 99th birthday. Douglas, a Pittsburgh native who resides in the Wynnefield section of Philadelphia, is a living legend.
Douglas is the oldest living African American Olympic medalist. He recently talked about turning 99 while taking a peek down the road at the century mark, which happens to be just a year away if the good Lord blesses him.
“I feel normal,” Douglas said. “I can say six days before my 99th birthday and that’s where I am standing and talking today. I feel like I’ll be 99 and I’ll reach 100 in a year. I’m looking forward to it. It’s significant. When you say 100 that puts you in a category.”
Douglas is in a special category. He had an opportunity to compete on the big stage in tack and field. He participated in the 1948 Olympics in London. As a 26 year-old track and field star, he placed third in the long jump. He jumped 24’9 to win a bronze medal. Douglas along with seven other African American athletes, which includes Harrison Dillard, Norwood “Barney” Ewell, Mal Whitfield, Willie Steele, Lorenzo Wright, Audrey Patterson and Alice Coachman competed in the London Games.
Douglas wasn’t just a trailblazer in track and field. He was one of the early African Americans to work for a major corporation. He joined Schieffelin &Co. in 1963 (now Moet/Hennessey USA) where he became the third African American to reach the level of vice president of a national company. He spent 30 years working for them.
Douglas also made an impressive showing in Philadelphia at The Penn Relays. In 1942, he was a member of the 440-yard relay team from Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically black college and university from New Orleans, La. The team ran a winning time of 41.7 seconds. Xavier was the first HBCU relays championship at the Penn Relays. Xavier’s team included Douglas, William Morton, Clarence Doak and Howard Mitchell.
After two years at Xavier, Douglas returned home to help his father, who was blind and had a parking garage business in Pittsburgh. Right after World War in 1945, he went back to college. He decided to attend the University of Pittsburgh. He played football and set a school record in the long jump (24-4.88), which last 23 years. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1948.
Douglas has accomplished a great deal on and off the field. Now that Douglas is 99 he can look back on some significant moments in his life, as well as looking forward to his next birthday, which would be an even bigger milestone.