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A century of greatness: Pittsburgh native and oldest living African American Olympian is almost 100 years old

The Homepage, published by Hazelwood Initiative

By JaQuay Edward Carter

Herbert Paul Douglas, the “fastest runner to come out of Hazelwood,” recently said "I was born 57 years after the ending of slavery." I was shocked when I heard it. It seemed impossible. I had to do the math for myself. I subtracted the year he was born, 1922, from the year 1865, and of course I got the same answer.

Looking over his near century of life, nothing was impossible for Mr. Douglas. He was born on March 9, 1922 at 160 Hazelwood Avenue, across from Gladstone and the First Hungarian Lutheran Church. He would attend both Gladstone Elementary and Junior High. As a teenager, Herb idolized Jesse Owens’ performance in the 1936 Olympics. Gladstone did not include high school curriculum at this time, so he attended Taylor Allderdice High School in nearby Squirrel Hill. He excelled at sports, playing football and running track before graduating in June of 1940.

Herbert Douglas, Jr., at a screening of "The Renaissance Period of the African American in Sports” at the LBJ Presidential Library in 2018.LBJ Library photo by Jay Godwin

Mr. Douglas dreamed of competing in the 1944 Summer Olympics in London. However, World War II caused the games to be canceled. In the meantime, he earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh. By 1948, he had become a standout athlete, winning three collegiate titles in the long jump. 

He sailed from New York to London on July 14th for the games that ran from July 29 and Aug 14. Mr. Douglas competed and won the Bronze Medal for a 24-foot 8.75-inch-long jump. After the Olympics he returned to Pitt, completing his Master of Education degree in 1950.

Herbert Douglas, Jr., 1948 competing in the Olympics.Photo courtesy of JaQuay Edward Carter, Greater Hazelwood Historical Society

His father, Herb, Sr., owned an automobile repair shop. He made history as the first African American to use a seeing eye dog. This was even reported in Ebony magazine.

Herb Jr. worked as night manager at his father’s auto shop until the Pabst Brewing Company hired him away in 1950. At Pabst, he rose from sales representative to southern district manager, serving as Pabst’s national special markets manager from 1965 to 1968.

From 1977 to 1980, he worked as vice president of urban market development for Schieffelin and Somerset Co., where he helped popularize Hennessy Cognac X.O, V.S.O.P, V.S and other brands in the African American community. 

On June 11, 1982, a Pittsburgh Press newspaper clipping described the Hazelwood honorees at the 2nd Annual Community Banquet. Mr. Douglas was honored along with the  No. 13 Engine and Truck Company, the Hazelwood Office of Community Action, sportswriter Jim O'Brien, Joe Vilsack, Mildred Johnson, restaurateur Frieda Pyrek Kish, and Alberta Eldridge were honored.

Mr. Douglas continued to work as an urban marketing consultant until he retired in 1987. He was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1992. 

In 2018, he was inducted into the inaugural class of Allderdice’s Sports Hall of Fame. On March 9, 2022, Mr. Douglas will celebrate his 100th birthday, God willing. A century of sportsmanship, scholarship and success.

JaQuay Edward Carter is a historian and the founder and president of the Greater Hazelwood Historical Society.

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The Homepage is a print newspaper delivered monthly to households in Greater Hazelwood, Glen Hazel, Greenfield, Hays, New Homestead, Lincoln Place and The Run. Hazelwood Initiative, Inc., a community-based nonprofit, publishes The Homepage through a grant from the City of Pittsburgh and advertising revenue from local businesses and organizations. The mission of Hazelwood Initiative, as a community-based development corporation, is to build a stronger Hazelwood through inclusive community development. Sonya Tilghman, Executive Director of Hazelwood Initiative, Inc. (she/her) Juliet Martinez, Managing Editor of The Homepage (they/them) Sarah Kanar, Layout and Design of The Homepage(she/her)

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