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Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.: Editorial on the 1936 Olympics

New York Amsterdam News Editorial
New York Amsterdam News

In May 1931—nearly two years before Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to power in Germany—the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded the 1936 Summer Olympics to Berlin. Soon after Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933, the United States and other Western democracies began to question the morality of supporting an Olympic Games hosted by the Nazi regime.1

Many American newspaper editors and anti-Nazi groups called for a boycott of the 1936 Olympic Games.2 Most Black newspapers opposed boycotting them. Writers for the Philadelphia Tribune and the Chicago Defender argued that victories by Black athletes would shatter the Nazi myth of "Aryan supremacy." The Chicago Defender reported that Black track stars such as Eulace Peacock, Jesse Owens, and Ralph Metcalfe favored participation because they felt their victories would help disprove Nazi racial theories.3

Others argued that the Olympics would give Black Americans unprecedented opportunities to compete in racially integrated sports. In the 1930s, "Jim Crow"4 laws legalized discrimination against non-white people in most areas of American life. Black people were barred from many public places, hotels, restaurants, and other facilities.5 With the exception of boxing, both college and professional sports were segregated. Opportunities for Black athletes to train and compete in organized sports were extremely limited.

The boycott debate divided Black communities in the US. The featured editorial by Baptist pastor and Harlem civil rights activist Adam Clayton Powell Jr.6 was published in the oldest Black newspaper in the country—the powerful New York Amsterdam News. Powell's editorial outlines his opposition to US participation in the 1936 Olympic Games in moral and religious terms. Powell invokes the "militancy of Jesus" as he urges Black Americans and Christians everywhere "to actively resist the onslaught of Nazism." 

In the end, the boycott failed and an American team competed in the Olympic Games in Berlin. With 312 members, the United States had the second-largest team, including 18 Black athletes who won 14 of America’s 56 medals.7 Black athletes such as Jesse Owens were idolized by sports fans and lionized by the American press, but participation in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin did little to change the day-to-day conditions of life for Black Americans.

Avery Brundage, the president of the American Olympic Committee, initially considered withdrawing the United States from the Olympic Games because of reports of Nazi persecution of German Jewish athletes. In 1934, Brundage made a brief inspection of German sports facilities. German authorities managed the inspection tour so tightly that Brundage was not able to speak to Jewish athletes without Nazi officials present. Afterward, Brundage announced that Jewish athletes were being treated fairly. The IOC obtained a pledge from the Nazi regime in June 1933, promising to abide by the Olympic charter banning all discrimination in sport. It was agreed that the Olympic Games should go forward in Berlin as planned.


For more on Americans' attitudes and responses to the Nazi threat, see the online exhibition, Americans and the Holocaust.

The Chicago Defender, December 14, 1935, 14. See USHMM's citizen history project, History Unfolded, to explore more Americans' reactions as printed in newspapers around the country.

"Jim Crow" refers to a legal system designed to create and sustain racial hierarchy in United States society. For more information, see the Jim Crow Museum website.

To learn more, see the related item in this collection, Oral History with Leon Bass.

To learn more about Adam Clayton Powell Jr., see Robert M. Lichtman, Barred by Congress: How a Mormon, a Socialist, and an African American Elected by the People Were Excluded from Office (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2022); and Louis Porter II, "An Unlikely Alliance: Adam Clayton Powell Sr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Seeds of Transformation," Cross Currents 64, no. 1, (2014): 116-122. 

For more on the 1936 Olympics, see Susan D. Bachrach, The Nazi Olympics: Berlin 1936 (Little, Brown, & Company, 2000).

Although the term "Negro" was frequently used as a respectful term in the 1930s, it is widely considered offensive today. For more on how such terms have changed to adapt to developing standards of respectful speech, see Tom W. Smith, "Changing Racial Labels: From 'Colored' to 'Negro' to 'Black' to 'African American,'" The Public Opinion Quarterly, 56:4 (Winter 1992): 496–514.

A reference to the 1937 forced sterilizations of nearly 400 German teenagers whose fathers were Allied soldiers from colonies in Africa or Asia who had been stationed in occupied German territory following World War I. German medical professionals deemed the children "mixed-race," and Nazi propaganda characterized them as "Rhineland bastards."

Bishop Theophil Wurm of Württemberg and Bishop Hans Meiser of Bavaria were removed from their posts and imprisoned for rejecting the Nazi takeover of their dioceses in 1934. Public reactions caused the regime to release the bishops and restore them to their positions. 

German: "Jews forbidden."

The track and field competitions held at the Sugar Bowl served as preliminary trials for the 1936 Olympics. Because New Orleans was segregated, Black athletes were not permitted to compete. "Bourbon Brown Shirts" refers to New Orleans' well known Bourbon Street and the brown shirts worn by the Nazi SA (Sturmabteilung).

Angelo Herndon was a young Black Communist man who was convicted of insurrection in Georgia in 1933. The evidence against Herndon was purely circumstantial, and his sentence was later overturned.

Nine Black youths were falsely charged with raping two white women in Alabama in 1931. The so-called "Scottsboro Boys" collectively served over 100 years in prison and became symbols of racial discrimination in the United States justice system. 

Sharecropping is a system of farming in which families rent land and pay the landowner with a percentage of their crops. Many formerly enslaved Black Americans became sharecroppers after the Civil War.

Silicosis is a lung disease caused by exposure to toxic silica particles. Hundreds of workers—most of whom were Black—died of silicosis as a result of negligent and abusive labor practices during the construction of the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel in West Virginia between 1930–1935.

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Stupidity of Nazism

Germany’s New Barbarism

Only Church Fights Grip

Sold Out by Athletes

By A. Clayton Powell, Jr.

“It is strictly prohibited to mate cows which were directly or indirectly bought from jews in the village hall. Other cows from stables occupied by Jews’ cattle must be observed for one year.”

This is just another example of Nazi nitwits. Unfortunately, the story is not always one of humor. Its plot runs deeper into the core of human liberties and life itself. It not only cuts into the very heart of Jewry in Germany, but also threatens many another portal with its bloody shadow. It is an assault on civilization.

Nazism destroys political equality, suppresses religious freedom, perverts education, degrades culture, persecutes Jews, Christians, Negroes,1 pacifists and liberals alike, threatens world peace, enslaves labor, debases women, disfranchises minorities, and is invading the world through its Brown International. This reversion to barbarism is a distinct challenge to the thinking world. The persecution of the Jew alone should be sufficient to demand the fullest support of every individual not living under Swastika, but Nazi barbarism strikes at others, too.


Negroes are not allowed to broadcast from any radio station: musicians and performers are banned from the Third Reich, and accommodations are difficult to obtain for Negro tourists. The mass sterilization in Cologne of Negro children2 is one of the blackest sins committed in the name of the western culture.

Recently a new term has been coined–“Judenschwarzen”--Jew-N*****! The origin of this (emanating from the Nazi Propaganda Ministry) is in the hands of the Committee Against Participation in the 1936 Olympics. It was published in a recent pamphlet of that committee, of which I am proud to be a member.

It is imperative that the 12,000,000 Negroes of America and the hundreds of millions of the darker peoples of this earth realize that Nazism is definitely committed to persecuting the black of this world. In this darkest hour the church of Germany has been the only force resisting the Nazi terror.

Its voice has been raised in a united protest, its ministry has actively resisted the Brown Shirts and its membership has “en masse” loyally followed. When Bishop Wurum was dismissed in Munich3 for fighting Nazism a demonstration of 8,000 church people took place. These courageous communicants, furthermore, wrote their names on a petition attacking Nazism. In Franconia 60,000 protested against the Nazi government in the name of God.


As a member of a race too long isolated from world affairs and as a member of the ministry that has forgotten the militancy of Jesus, I call upon 12,000,000 Negroes and 500,000,000 Christians to actively resist the onslaught of Nazism. The ministry of America must cooperate with each movement aimed at this common foe.

Eulace Peacock, Jesse Owens, Cornelius Johnson, Ralph Metcalfe and Ben Johnson–you had the chance as the ace track athletes of America to strike a popular blow by refusing to go to the Olympics. True, it would have been hard, but everything worthwhile costs. Instead you sold out! You threw away a chance to take first place in the world’s greatest race–Barbarism vs. Civilization. You endorsed the Olympics in Germany where at the scene of the Olympics stands a sign, “Juden Verboten.”4 You lost, for two weeks later, at the Louisiana Sugar Bowl, the Bourbon Brown Shirts wouldn’t let one of you compete in the pre-Olympic track trials.5


We think Nazism is the German’s problem, but Angelo Herndon,6 the Scottsboro boys,7 47 labor deaths in 1936, 24 lynchings, criminal syndication trials, 2,000,000 share-croppers,8 and 500 silicosis9 deaths are irrefutable evidence that America is fertile soil in which to sow the seeds of Nazism.

We must submerge our individual differences of race, of creed and of color and merge our mind, our hearts and our all to scourge Nazism from the world and make it a stigma and stench and a term of opprobrium for the future. To my fellow Negroes, I beseech you to throw off your shackles of the twentieth century slavery of indifference and meet the common foe! 

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
New York Amsterdam News
Date Created
May 2, 1936
Page(s) 12
Author / Creator
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
New York, USA
Document Type Newspaper Article
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