April 21, 2011
Flipping through the storied history of athletics at the University of Pittsburgh, dozens upon dozens of names stand out not only as notable figures in Pitt history - but also as significant figures in the world. One of the most recognizable of those names is Herb Douglas.
A Pitt alumnus with a bachelor's degree in science and a master's degree in education, Douglas is the founder of the Jesse Owens International Trophy Award and the Jesse Owens Global Award. A standout track and field athlete, he won a bronze medal in the long jump at the 1948 London Olympic Games and held the long jump record at Pitt for 23 years.
Douglas, 89, has been instrumental in bringing together "Athletics at Pitt: The Forefront of a Century of Change." He took time to speak about his time at Pitt and what the event means to him.
Q: You've been integral in bringing this event together. Can you speak about what it means to you to finally achieve this event and what you're most looking forward to on May 10?
A: Well, I'll start off by saying this: I'm 89 years old, so I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly in African-American history. So naturally I've seen a lot of development and progression, and the point of this event is to celebrate that. It's not going to be a civil rights show or anything like that, it's a celebration that's narrated by four highly-successful personalities in Jack Whitaker, Bob Costas, Fredricka Whitfield and our own Mark May. The whole hook is that it's been 100 years since the first African-American athlete graduated from Pitt. So I'm looking forward to seeing everyone together, past and present, and being able to celebrate that achievement.
Q: Your career as an athlete at Pitt is as impressive as they come. What do you remember most from that time?
A: When I went to Pitt I went out for football, but football never was a major sport to me. It was all about track and field, so that stands out.
Growing up in the 1930s, I had two idols: Jesse Owens and Joe Lewis, who were track and field guys. I knew I wasn't going to be that good of a football player, but I loved going on and running track. And when I became a national AAU long jump champion and stood at the podium knowing that I was one of the best in the world, it was a highlight of my life. It transcended into other areas, because I later went on to become the third African-American vice president of a major corporation. I always thought back to my time at Pitt and it meant a lot to me.
Q: The campus has obviously changed since you were here. What do you remember most about your time on campus as a student-athlete?
A: I remember times in the Commons Room in the Cathedral of Learning. The big gothic columns with the big chairs in front of them - I remember sitting around there and just talking with friends. We enjoyed the campus. We considered those the golden years of our lives, because we were all together wherever we went.
I'll always remember is the Commons Room and how we'd congregate there. One time the dean of education came over to us and said, "Why don't you guys spread out?" But we all had our groups and were more segregated back then. It's not like that anymore - at least not nearly as much as it used to be.
Q: When you see some of the more recent Pitt African-American student-athletes and the things they have achieved, what goes through your head?
A: I remember once talking to the football team when Larry Fitzgerald was there. I gave a speech and said, "The gift that I get from you guys is knowing that these days there are so many more African-American student-athletes than there were when I was on the field, more opportunities. Back when I was here, there weren't many more than just myself. But now I see so many, and that is America today.
I love seeing them and how anxious a lot of the more recent athletes are for this event. They understand the evolution of where things were and what they are today. I think they appreciate it all.
This is the first of a series of interviews with former Pitt African-American student-athletes, leading up to the event "Athletics at Pitt: The Forefront of a Century of Change."
$60 - General Ticket (ALL former student athletes)
$60 - General Ticket (recent graduate - 2006-10)
$100 - General Ticket
$200 - Premium Ticket [Includes VIP Reception Ticket - seated in general seating area]
$1,000 - General Table of 10
$2,500 - Premium Location Table of 10 [Includes 10 VIP Reception Tickets]
Space is limited for premium tickets/tables. Reservations will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.
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