Monday, July 23, 2001

Olympic hero may get memorial

Freedom Center may salute Hubbard's achievements

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Before Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson, there was DeHart Hubbard. A Cincinnati native and star student at Walnut Hills High School, Mr. Hubbard broke ground as the first African-American to win an individual Olympic gold medal, taking the long jump in 1924 in Paris.

        He graduated with honors from the University of Michigan, where he was a five-time Big Ten champion in track and field, and later served as race relations adviser for the Federal Housing Authority.

        But Mr. Hubbard's Olympic accomplishments and civil rights work have gone largely unnoticed in his hometown.

        Until now.

        Three groups are combining forces to place a memorial to Mr. Hubbard inside the planned transit center at the foot of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

        Officials are considering a statue, to be in place when the transit center opens next year.

        Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell said he idolized Mr. Hubbard, who died in 1976. Mr. Blackwell knew him well — Mr. Hubbard was his great-uncle.

        “He was a gentleman (who) not only represented his country but his people who, at the time, were marginalized in a society that hadn't fully appreciated their human dignity,” Mr. Blackwell said.

        “... But he was proud of being an American and proud that he was jumping on behalf of his country, with its problems and its promise.”

        Metro, which is operated by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, will use an estimated $25,000 in federal funds for the monument.

        Indiana artist Daniel Edwards, who specializes in portraying African-American Olympic athletes, has been selected for the job but is not yet under contract.

        Cincinnati 2012 Inc., the organization trying to bring the Olympics to town, has been pushing for a memorial to Mr. Hubbard.

        Cincinnati 2012 president Nick Vehr, while serving on Cincinnati City Council, became aware of the lack of recognition here of Mr. Hubbard.

        “We've been encouraging anybody who would listen to build an appropriate memorial to DeHart Hubbard in this city,” Mr. Vehr said.

        “A significant piece of sculpture at the entrance to the Freedom Center sounds like exactly what he deserves.”

        Ed Rigaud, chief executive officer for the Freedom Center, said he would be proud to have a memorial there.

        Mr. Blackwell said his great-uncle never pined for recognition from his hometown. But he thinks Mr. Hubbard would be pleased.

        “He was one who didn't have an insatiable thirst for public recognition and praise,” Mr. Blackwell said. “His satisfaction was in his mother's and father's smile and sense of pride.

        “He was very much a champion's champion.”


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