In 1936, 18 African American athletes left the Berlin Olympics with 14 medals, a quarter of the total medals won by the U.S. team that summer. They returned to a segregated United States, where the American public mostly celebrated their victories—but their president didn't.
“Hitler didn’t snub me; it was our president who snubbed me,” said Jesse Owens, the 23-year-old track star who won four gold medals, of Franklin Roosevelt. “The president didn’t even send a telegram.”
Eighty years later, the athletes—16 men and two women—received their overdue recognition by a U.S. president Thursday when their relatives visited the White House for an event honoring the U.S. team at this year's Rio games.
“It wasn’t just Jesse. It was other African American athletes in the middle of Nazi Germany under the gaze of Adolf Hitler that put a lie to notions of racial superiority—whooped ’em—and taught them a thing or two about democracy and taught them a thing or two about the American character,” President Obama said Thursday.
The other athletes were Dave Albritton, John Brooks, James Clark, Cornelius Johnson, Willis Johnson, Howell King, James LuValle, Ralph Metcalfe, Art Oliver, Tidye Pickett, Fritz Pollard Jr., Mack Robinson, Louise Stokes, John Terry, Archie Williams, Jack Wilson, and John Woodruff. Eighteen relatives attended the White House event and shook the president’s hand, according to the AP.