Oral History

John Woodruff describes winning an Olympic medal

In 1936, John Woodruff was one of 18 African Americans on the US Olympic team competing in Berlin. He won the gold medal for the men's 800-meter race. In this clip he describes his feelings upon winning the medal.

Interview date: May 15, 1996 


Woodruff: There was definitely a special feeling in winning the gold medal and being a, a Black man because here I, here I was doing something and particularly, this particular event had not been won by an American in 24 years. So and it, that was won by a white man, not a Black man. So I was very proud of that, of that fact, very proud of that achievement, and I was very happy for myself as an individual, for my race, and for my country.

Interviewer: Now you had started to mention something about auxiliaries. What’s that about?

Woodruff: Well after the Olympics were over, I think it came at, I think it was published, it must have been published in the in the German publication, the German newspapers, that Hitler made the remark that if it wasn’t for the black auxiliary the American would not have won the Olympics. That’s what I, that’s what I heard. I didn’t read it, but I heard, heard that that was the remark that he made, you see.

Interviewer: How did that make you feel?

Woodruff: Well it, it made me, it made me feel good because what we did, we destroyed his master race theory. That’s what, it made me feel very good. Cause you know he uh he had that master race theory that you know the, the superior race, that only, only, only the pure Germans could do certain things in this world. That was what he was advocating. But we destroyed his theory whenever we started winning those gold medals. 


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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