Ralph Metcalfe Biography

Born in Atlanta, Ralph Metcalfe (1910–1978) was America’s leading sprinter from 1932-1934. During his sophomore year at Marquette, Metcalfe equaled the world record of 10.3 seconds in the 100 meter dash. He also matched the 200 meter world record of 20.6 seconds. He completed the 1932 intercollegiate season by winning the first of three NCAA championships, in both the 100- and 200-yard events. Later that summer Metcalfe competed in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, racing to virtual tie with Eddie Tolan in the 100 meters. After an exhaustive review officials awarded the gold medal to Tolan and silver medal to Metcalfe. The Marquette sprinter also earned a bronze medal in the 200 meters at Los Angeles.

Over the next several years Metcalfe remained a world class runner, competing for Marquette in sprints between 40 yards and 220 meters. Young Metcalfe was also an accomplished student and a campus leader. In 1933 he was inducted into Alpha Sigma Nu, the elite Jesuit academic honor society. Metcalfe was also elected president of the Marquette University senior class. He graduated cum laude in 1936.

In 1936 Metcalfe qualified for his second Olympic team. Competing in Berlin, he earned his third and fourth Olympic medals: a silver medal in the 200 meters (0.1 second behind Jesse Owens) and a gold medal as part of the 4 x 100 relay team. During his career in track Metcalfe equaled or bettered 13 world records.

Returning from the Berlin Games, Metcalfe accepted a teaching and coaching position at Xavier University of New Orleans, eventually developing five national champions in track and field. Following military service in World War II, Ralph Metcalfe moved to Chicago and ran for elected office. He entered politics as a Chicago alderman, eventually rising to president pro tempore of the Chicago Common Council. In 1970 Metcalfe won the first of four successful campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the Illinois' 1st congressional district. Rep. Metcalfe was a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus. He also introduced the Congressional resolution that officially established Black History Month. He died in 1978 at age sixty-eight.