This page was last updated on 30 September 2021

Click here to 
Print this page

Biography finder





























Index of first names

Herb Douglas



Herb DouglasAt Xavier University's 84th commencement Saturday 7th May 2011, it was an 89-year-old who stole the show.

Herb Douglas set a school-record long-jump of 24 feet 4 inches at the University of Pittsburgh.
"It's a storybook ending,'' said Herb Douglas. "Xavier started me on my path in life. I learned academics there. I learned religion. I learned how to run.''

Obviously, Herb Douglas also learned how to jump.

At the 1948 Olympic Games in London, he long-jumped 24 feet nine inches to win the bronze medal, becoming, and remaining, Xavier's only Olympic medalist.

The story begins in the autumn of 1940, when Douglas arrived at Xavier, recruited by the track coach, Ralph Metcalfe, a silver medalist (behind Jesse Owens) in the 100 meters and part of the U.S. gold-medal 400-meter relay team at the 1936 games in Berlin.

In 1941, Douglas set a Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship-meet record of 23 feet 11 inches in the outdoor long-jump.  In 1942, he was part of a 440-yard relay team that made Xavier this country's first historically black college or university to win a relay race at the Penn Relays.

The program Metcalfe began won 14 conference championships in 21 years at a school described as "the black Notre Dame.''

When World War II limited Douglas' stay at Xavier to two years, forcing him to return to his home in Pittsburgh to assist his father, who was blind, in the operation of a 24-hour parking garage, life's second chapter began.

"My dad needed help,'' said Douglas. "He was losing employees to the military and war-related industries. I wanted to stay at Xavier, but circumstances wouldn't allow me. I helped my dad with his business, and I got a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh, where I played football and was a member of the track team.''

The highlights: A school-record long-jump of 24 feet 4 inches that stood for 23 years, and a touchdown against Notre Dame on a pass reception.

"I'll never forget that touchdown,'' Douglas said, laughing. "It was on a stop-and-go route.''

The academic highlights: A bachelor's degree in '48 followed by a masters degree in '50.
The lasting memory: The '48 Summer Olympics in London.

Douglas made the team with a leap of 25 feet 3 inches in the Trials at Evanston, Ill.
"We looked at it as the make-the-boat games, the long boat trip across the Atlantic,'' he recalled. "A lot of pressure in the Trials. Eight of us made it. It was a great scene inside Wembley Stadium, the first Olympics after the war, the first since Berlin in '36.

"For me, when I got to Xavier, it was a great experience just listening to the stories told by Ralph Metcalfe about the '36 games, about the great Jesse Owens. I show up and my coach is known as the 'second-fastest man in the world.' That's some memory for a youngster. My biggest regret from those days was not jumping far enough to win the silver in '48. Missed by a quarter-inch.''
An Olympic medal becomes part of you for the rest of your life.

"In those days,'' said Douglas, "they gave us medallions similar to the medals. My mom used to wear my bronze medallion all the time. When she died, I made sure she was wearing it. I'm still wearing the ring the U.S. Olympic Committee gave us. The Committee tells me I'm now the fourth-oldest track-and-field medalist still living. At 89, that's a nice team to be a member of.''

After graduating from Pitt, Douglas went to work for the Pabst Brewing Company, then for the wine and spirits importer, Schieffelin & Somerset, where he became only the third African-American to become vice-president of a major North American corporation.
So what's new, Herb?

Currently, he's on a schedule that proves he fits the image of the "Energizer Bunny,'' which is what wife Minerva calls him.

"On Tuesday,'' he said, "I'm planning to be back at Pitt, where the university will be celebrating a centennial salute to its African-American athletes. I'll be in fast company up there. I'll be around football greats like Tony Dorsett, Hugh Green and Larry Fitzgerald, like track legend Roger Kingdom.''

And then?

Well, when the Olympics return to London next year, Herb Douglas, whose knees minimize walking and eliminate jogging, who manages to stay fit by swimming four times a week, has made plans to be in Wembley Stadium.

"I'm hoping I'm fit enough to make the trip,'' said Herb. "I don't think I'll go by boat.''




Any contributions to this item will be gratefully accepted


Errors and Omissions

The Forum

What's new?

We are looking for your help to improve the accuracy of The Douglas Archives.

If you spot errors, or omissions, then please do let us know


Many articles are stubs which would benefit from re-writing. Can you help?


You are not authorized to add this page or any images from this page to (or its subsidiaries) or other fee-paying sites without our express permission and then, if given, only by including our copyright and a URL link to the web site.


If you have met a brick wall with your research, then posting a notice in the Douglas Archives Forum may be the answer. Or, it may help you find the answer!

You may also be able to help others answer their queries.

Visit the Douglas Archives Forum.


2 Minute Survey

To provide feedback on the website, please take a couple of minutes to complete our survey.


We try to keep everyone up to date with new entries, via our What's New section on the home page.

We also use the Community Network to keep researchers abreast of developments in the Douglas Archives.

Help with costs

Maintaining the three sections of the site has its costs.  Any contribution the defray them is very welcome



If you would like to receive a very occasional newsletter - Sign up!



Back to top


The content of this website is a collection of materials gathered from a variety of sources, some of it unedited.

The webmaster does not intend to claim authorship, but gives credit to the originators for their work.

As work progresses, some of the content may be re-written and presented in a unique format, to which we would then be able to claim ownership.

Discussion and contributions from those more knowledgeable is welcome.

Contact Us

Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024