Pittsburgh Superstars: Herb Douglas, men’s track and field

PITTSBURGH — At 99 years young, Herb Douglas is the oldest living African American Olympian medalist. The proud Pittsburgh native won a bronze medal back in 1948.

Douglas grew up in Hazelwood in a home his family still owns. During his early years, he lived there with his sister, mother and father, who was blind.

“Now what did my Dad teach me, being blind since I was 5-years-old, he taught me how to be positive,” Douglas told Channel 11′s Katherine Amenta.

At the University of Pittsburgh, Douglas was one of the first African Americans to play football, but it was track and field that put him on the international stage. His bronze in the 1948 games in London came in the long jump.

“It was very racial then,” Douglas told Amenta. “And they put all of us African Americans in a Quonset. And we slept on cots. We bounced on each other and that’s why all of us came back with a medal.”

He and superstar sprinter Jesse Owens became friends.

“I carry on the legacy,” Douglas said. “In the last 20 years of (Owens’) life, I guess we were on the phone 2 or 3 times a month.”

Douglas also became a very successful businessman and executive. He also is heavily involved with his alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh.

“I never met anybody alive before the Cathedral of Learning was built,” said Pitt Athletic Director Heather Like. “He’ll give you advice all the time. He’ll tell me, Heather, you got to stay positive. You got to keep looking forward. I don’t know if he’s had a bad day in his life honestly.”

Douglas was a successful businessman and executive for years. And with all the success he’s had, on the field, in the pit and in the boardroom, he’s clear about the legacy he wants to leave.

“That I did the right thing. And I always try to help mankind,” Douglas said.

Douglas and his wife now live in Philadelphia, where he said he keeps his bronze medal beside his bed.