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Sat, 05.30.1936

Ralph Metcalfe, Athlete, and Politician born

Ralph Metcalfe (1977)

On this date, the Registry recalls the birth of Ralph Metcalfe in 1910.  He was a Black track sprinter and coach who became a politician.

Although born in Atlanta, Ralph Harold Metcalfe grew up in Chicago where he was an outstanding sprinter and a student at Marquette University. While his starts were comparatively weak, Metcalfe had an extremely long stride and was noted for the strength of his finishes. In at least eight 100-meter dash, he tied the world record of 10.3 seconds, and he also tied the world record of 20.6 seconds in the 200-meter dash. Metcalfe was a member of the American 4 x100-meter relay team that won a gold medal at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. At his peak, in 1934-35, he was called "the world's fastest human.”

His 100-meter dash at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles ended in a virtual dead heat with his rival, Ed Tolan, both men finishing in 10.38 seconds. After hours of deliberation over a photograph of the finish, the judges determined that Tolan won by about an inch.  Metcalfe also won a bronze medal in the 200-meter dash at the 1932 Games.  Metcalfe again finished second in the 100-meter dash at the 1936 Olympics; the victor, a tenth of a second faster, was Jesse Owens, whom Metcalfe defeated at other track meets.

After his retirement following the 1936 Games, Metcalfe attended the University of Southern California (M.A., 1939). After his college career, he joined the armed forces and served in World War II.  He coached track at Xavier University of Louisiana before becoming a successful businessman in Chicago. In 1949, he began pursuing a career as a politician, first as a South Side Alderman for the city of Chicago; then as a Democrat representing Illinois' 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1971 until his death in 1978 at age 68 in Chicago.

Black Americans in Congress 1870-1989.
Bruce A. Ragsdale & Joel D. Treese
U.S. Government Printing Office
Raymond W. Smock, historian and director 1990

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