Ralph Metcalfe

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Not to be confused with early 19th century New Hampshire politician Ralph Metcalf
Ralph Metcalfe
Metcalfe in 1977
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 1st district
In office
January 3, 1971 – October 10, 1978
Preceded by William L. Dawson
Succeeded by Bennett M. Stewart
Personal details
Born (1910-05-30)May 30, 1910
Atlanta, Georgia
Died October 10, 1978(1978-10-10) (aged 68)
Chicago, Illinois
Resting place Holy Sepulchre Cemetery
Alsip, Illinois
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Madalynne Fay Young Metcalfe (1921–1999)[1]
(m. 1947–1978, his death)
Children 1 son Ralph Harold Metcalfe, Jr.
Alma mater Marquette University
Religion Catholic [2][3][4]
Medal record
Men's Athletics
Representing the
 United States
Olympic Games
Gold 1936 Berlin 4×100 m relay
Silver 1932 Los Angeles 100 meters
Silver 1936 Berlin 100 meters
Bronze 1932 Los Angeles 200 meters

Ralph Harold Metcalfe, Sr. (May 29, 1910 – October 10, 1978) was an American track and field sprinter and politician. He jointly held the world record in the 100-meter dash and placed second in that event in two Olympics, the latter to Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. Metcalfe won four Olympic medals and was regarded as the world’s fastest human in 1934 and 1935.[5] He later went into politics and in the city of Chicago and served in the United States Congress for four terms in the 1970s as a Democrat from Illinois.

Track and field career[edit]

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Metcalfe grew up in Chicago and graduated high school from Tilden Tech in 1930.[6] He accepted a track scholarship to Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and equaled the record of 10.3 seconds in the 100 m on a number of occasions, as well as equaling the 200 m record of 20.6 seconds. He became the first man to win the NCAA 200 m title three times consecutively.[7] At the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, he virtually dead-heated with his rival Eddie Tolan, with the gold medal awarded to Tolan only after extended study of the photograph; both recorded a time of 10.38 seconds in the 100 meters. Metcalfe also earned a bronze medal at these games, in the 200 meters. He competed again at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, and again took silver in the 100 meters, this time behind four-time gold medalist Owens. They won gold in the 4×100 meter relay with Foy Draper and Frank Wykoff; the U.S. won by 1.1 seconds over runner-up Italy, and Germany took bronze. Fierce rivals on the track, Metcalfe and Owens (1913–1980) became lifelong friends.[8]

Military and political career[edit]

After earning his bachelor's degree at Marquette in 1936, Metcalfe completed a master's degree at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in 1939. Metcalfe taught political science and coached track at Xavier University in New Orleans, and served in the transportation corps of U.S. Army in World War II, rising to the rank of first lieutenant and awarded the Legion of Merit medal. After the war, he moved back to Chicago and later headed the state's athletic commission.

In 1955, Metcalfe won the first of four elections as an alderman representing the South Side of Chicago. He ran for an open seat Congress in 1970 as a Democrat and was easily elected from Illinois' first district. The seat had been filled for 28 years by William L. Dawson, who was retiring at age 84 due to poor health and then died less than a week after the 1970 election. Metcalfe was a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) in 1971 and later was noted for breaking ranks with Chicago mayor Richard Daley after incidents of police brutality.

Death and legacy[edit]

Metcalfe was seeking a fifth term in 1978 when he died at his Chicago home on October 10 of an apparent heart attack at age 68.[5]

Metcalfe is interred at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Alsip, southwest of Chicago. The federal building in Chicago (at 77 W. Jackson Blvd.) was named for him upon its completion in 1991.[9]

Metcalfe was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975 and named a member of the President's Commission on Olympic Sports.


Metcalfe married Madalynne Fay Young in 1947 and they had one son. He was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Alpha Sigma Nu honor society,[10] and the Corpus Christi parish in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood.[2] He converted to Catholicism in 1932, while an undergraduate at Marquette.[3]


  1. ^ "Madalynne Y. Metcalf". Chicago Tribune. January 21, 1999. Retrieved March 24, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Johnson, Karen (February 18, 2013). "Catholicism and Civil Rights, 1968". Before It's News. Retrieved March 24, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Metcalfe, Ralph H. (1938). "A Race Well Run". Catholicism.org. Retrieved March 24, 2014. 
  4. ^ Rhoads, Mark (November 13, 2006). "Illinois Hall of Fame: Ralph Metcalfe". Retrieved <arch 24, 2014.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  5. ^ a b Bochat, Rel (October 11, 1978). "Marquette track got Metcalfe off 'n' running". Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 1, part 2. 
  6. ^ Kuechle, Oliver E. (March 21, 1933). "Ralph Metcalfe set high school records right and left". Milwaukee Journal. p. 4, part 2. 
  7. ^ 2006 NCAA Men's Outdoor Track and Field Championships Results and Records . NCAA (2006). Retrieved on 2009-09-19.
  8. ^ Muwakki, Salim (October 18, 1999). "A Father's Life: Ralph Metcalfe Sr.". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 24, 2014. 
  9. ^ "Ralph H. Metcalfe Federal Building". U.S. General Services Administration. Retrieved March 24, 2014. 
  10. ^ Hylton, J. Gordon (September 21, 2010). "Another little-known fact: Ralph Metcalfe was a Marquette law student (at least for a while)". Marquette University Law School. faculty blog. Retrieved March 24, 2014. 

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
William L. Dawson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
Bennett M. Stewart