William DeHart Hubbard was the epitome of the unsung hero. Only a close inspection of the record books reveal the remarkable accomplishments of a true historical figure.
At the 1924 Olympics in Paris, Hubbard became the first African American to win a gold medal in an individual event when he won the long jump, notching a leap of 24 feet, 5.5 inches on his sixth and final attempt. That international stage was only part of his legacy.
A standout athlete and student at Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati, Hubbard had to withstand the racism of the day, but did secure admission to the University of Michigan. The Wolverines benefited as he went on to become a three-time NCAA champion and seven-time Big 10 champion in track and field.
In 1925, Hubbard set the world long jump record with a leap of 25 feet, 10.75 inches. A year later, he tied the world record in the 100-yard dash at 9.6 seconds.
In perspective, Hubbard’s little-known status can be summed up in his Big 10 record of 25 feet, 3.5 inches set in 1925. It stood until heralded Jesse Owens broke it in 1935. The men would become friends years later when Hubbard left Cincinnati for Cleveland in 1942 to work for the Federal Housing Authority until retirement in 1969.
In 1948, Hubbard told The Plain Dealer of his Paris gold medal. “I was determined to become the first of my race to be an Olympic champion and I was just as determined to break the world (long jump) record,” said Hubbard.
Hubbard was named to the National Track Hall of Fame in 1957 and was posthumously selected in the second class of the University of Michigan Hall of Honor in 1979.
“He was not a boisterous person,” said friend and gold medalist Harrison Dillard of Cleveland. “There was a sense of gentleman about him.”
A longtime bowler, Hubbard was president of the National Bowling Association in the 1950s and was a founder of the baseball Cincinnati Tigers of the Negro American League.
Hubbard died in Cleveland at age 72 on June 23, 1976. The William DeHart Hubbard Scholarship Fund was established in 2010 through the University of Michigan.