LifestyleBlack History Month


The history of Black History Month and Ralph Metcalfe

Posted at 9:41 AM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 19:15:32-05

As we celebrate Black History Month, you need to get to know the name Ralph Metcalfe: A great athlete, and maybe the reason why we celebrate today.

So who is Ralph Metcalfe?

"He's probably the greatest athlete in Marquette history. And just as good of a person," Marquette Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Bert Rogers says.

Just how great?

"For a three-year period from 1932-1934, he was known as the world's fastest human," Marquette University Digital Records Archivist Katie Blank says.

And that's just his athletic achievements. One of his greatest accomplishments away from sports is what we're celebrating, this month.

"He was somebody that achieved incredible things, and then helped create Black History Month. He made an impact," Rogers says.

His legacy began at Marquette. Blowing minds by winning NCAA titles in the 100 and 200 meters each of his three seasons.

"One of my favorite photos is this one, the cinder dust being kicked up. Coach in the background, what an action shot," Blank says.

Metcalfe became an athletic superstar.

"Olympic medalist. World medalist. World record holder, all while a student at Marquette is amazing," Rogers says.

He came here because of the Marquette mission.

"He was recruited all over, but he came to Marquette because of the way Marquette treated African-Americans. That's why he ended up here," Rogers says.

Because of his popularity, he became class president too. But never acted like it, instead becoming a true servant leader.

"Beyond being an athlete, he was a fabric of the campus. He got water for the football team, and helped the basketball team," Blank says.

He competed in the Olympics, winning a gold medal, and finishing runner-up to the legendary Jesse Owens. Then post-athletics, he became a US Congressman from Illinois and introduced the resolution to establish Black History Month.

"He wasn't bombastic. He focused on the greatness of all people, and his focus on Black History Month as a start of that," Blank says.

"I bring recruits in and tell them he helped form as it is now," Rogers says.

A park in Milwaukee and a federal building in Chicago bear his name. Quietly, Metcalfe's legacy lives on, nine decades later.

"Every student that's not a freshman at Marquette knows what he's done," Rogers says.

Report a typo or error // Submit a news tip