Frederick D. “Fritz” Pollard Jr.

Inducted: 2004
Born: 1915
Died: 2003

Frederick D. ‘Fritz’ Pollard Jr. equaled the world record for the 45-yard-high hurdles while running for Brown University in the spring of 1934. He came to Brown as the son of Fritz Pollard, the Bruin’s All-American who led Brown to is first Rose Bowl in 1916. Fritz Sr. was the first African American football player at Brown and became the first African American running back to be named to Walter Camp’s All-American team. Later, Pollard became the first African American coach in the National Football League.

Pollard, along with all nine African American players in the NFL at the time, were removed from the league at the end of the 1926 season, with no reason given, and never to return. He spent some time organizing all-African American barnstorming teams, including the Chicago Black Hawks in 1928 and the Harlem Brown Bombers in the 1930s.

“My dad has his niche, Fritz Pollard Jr. said. It was always a tough act to follow. He was the one who paved the way for everyone.” Frtiz Pollard Jr. was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on February 18, 1915. After the family moved to Chicago, Pollard was the City, State, and National Champion in high and low hurdles while a student at Senn High School in Chicago. No one was surprised when he made the U.S. Olympic Team in 1936.

The Berlin Olympics officially opened on August 1, 1936. Hitler saw the Games as an opportunity to promote his government and ideals of racial supremacy. The official Nazi party paper wrote in the strongest terms that Jewish and Black people should not be allowed to participate in the games. However, when threatened with a boycott of the Games by other nations, he relented and allowed Black and Jewish people to participate and added one token participant to the German team—a Jewish woman, Helene Mayer. After she won a silver medal for fencing, Mayer gave a Nazi salute from the podium. Later, she explained she did it to protect her family, who were in German Labor Camps. Mayer survived because she moved to the United States after the Olympics, but many of her relatives died in the Holocaust.

Eighteen African American athletes competed in the 1936 Olympics, including Frederick Pollard Jr. Jesse Owens became the most successful athlete of any race. Between August 3 and August 9, 22-year-old Owens won gold medals in the long jump, the 100- and 200-metre dashes, and the 4 x 100-metre relay. He became the first American track and field athlete to win four gold medals at a single Olympic Games. After Owens won his first medal, Hitler, not wanting to acknowledge a non-Aryan athlete’s ability, left the stadium. Pollard won a bronze medal in the high hurdles in the 1936 Olympic Games, despite a serious leg injury suffered aboard ship en route to Berlin. He was leading the race but tripped over the next-to-last hurdle and still finished third.

In 2016, the 1936 Olympic journey of the eighteen Black American athletes, including Pollard, was documented in the film Olympic Pride, American Prejudice.

On February 6, 1937, Pollard placed fifth at the prestigious Milrose Games in New York City. Pollard completed his collegiate athletic career at the University of North Dakota, where he was a Little All-American selection in football as a halfback in 1938. When he arrived on campus, he asked where the hurdles were, to the surprise of the football coaches. “They didn’t even know that I ran track.” In addition to football, he became captain of the track team and a boxing team member. After he left UND with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education, Pollard received his law degree from John Marshall Law School in Chicago. He was the director of physical education and oversaw Union Park, Chicago Park District, from 1940 to 1942. He married Addiefie Cruishank of Selma, Alabama, and fathered two children, Sheryl and Fritz.

During WWII, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as a Special Services Officer and Liaison Officer for troops passing through the Port of Newport News, Virginia. He rose to the rank of Captain. After the war, Pollard returned to teaching physical education in the Chicago Public School system. He later became Deputy Director and Acting Director of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations and a Community Unit Director for the Commission on Youth Welfare. During the Kennedy administration, he worked for the State Department, coordinating goodwill visits abroad by U.S. athletes. From the mid-1960s until his retirement, he worked in Washington, D.C., with the State Department. He died in Washington, D.C., on February 15, 2003, at the age of eighty-seven, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Fritz Pollard received the Distinguished Service Citation of the University of North Dakota in the form of the Sioux Award and has been inducted into the University’s Hall of Fame. The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education voted unanimously in 2022 to rename the University of North Dakota High Performance Center in honor of alumnus Frederick “Fritz” Pollard Jr. The building is the primary indoor training facility for various UND sports teams.

“We do not take naming a building lightly,” said UND President Andrew Armacost. “With Fritz Pollard Jr.’s name attached to the High Performance Center, we are telling our student-athletes and the community that we are incredibly proud of this remarkable alumnus. His accomplishments as a student-athlete, an Olympian, and in life are something to hold up as admirable and worthy of historical recognition. Pollard Jr. was part of the University of North Dakota Athletics Hall of Fame’s initial class after a standout career in football, boxing and track and field. In 1939, he was one of the school’s first African American graduates. “It feels great to know he is being recognized in this way,” said Fritz Pollard III, son of Fritz Pollard Jr. “I know how much my dad loved going to the University and visiting after he graduated. He just loved it up there. It’s a tremendous honor for him to have his name on a building.”

UND Athletics Director Bill Chaves said, “Fritz embodied everything you would want in a multi-sport student-athlete and it is so fitting that a building that primarily houses our football and track and field teams will now bear his name. We look forward to bringing members of his family back sometime in the future to appropriately and “officially” memorialize this naming and celebrate all that he did for the University of North Dakota.”

Pollard is also a member of the Brown University Hall of Fame. Pollard died in Washington, D.C. in 2003 at the age of eighty-seven and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

In 2004, Fritz Pollard was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, joining his father, who was inducted in 1967.

For additional reading:
1.‘Frederick Pollard JR., Medalist in 110- Meter Hurdles in ’36 Olympics, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 15, 2003.
2.Henderson, Odie: “Olympic Pride, American Prejudice movie review (2016)”.
3.”Alpha Athletes at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany”. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.
4.Fritz Pollard: Breaking the Racial Barrier, by John M. Carroll, University of Illinois Press, 1987.

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