Malvin Whitfield: Ambassador for Track and Field

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

Malvin “Mal” Whitfield, a gold medal-winning track star of the 1948 and 1952 U.S. Olympic Teams died in November 2015.  He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in June 2016.  Whitfield served in the Air Force from 1943 to 1948 and again from 1951 to 1953.  During World War II he was part of the group known as the Tuskegee Airmen and during the Korean War he flew 27 combat missions.  His obituaries all note that after retiring from active competition he worked on behalf of the Department of State conducting sports clinics in Africa and helped to improve the quality of track athletes there.

Among the extant documentation in the files of the Department of State relating to Whitfield’s overseas activities are the following documents from the late 1950s.

To brief the posts to which Whitfield planned to travel in 1957, the Department sent the following impressive resume.

“Mr. Mal Whitfield, outstanding American athlete and winner of three gold medals at the 1948 and 1952 Olympic games, has accepted an invitation to visit the East African colonies during the summer of 1957 . . .  “

“Mr. Whitfield is highly respected by his fellow athletes, sportswriters, former teachers and officers of the Department. . . .  He is respected not only for his impressive catalogue of athletic achievement, but equally for his friend-winning personality and dedication to the cause of sportsmanship.”

“Mal Whitfield’s second visit to East Africa was even more successful than his earlier shorter one. . . . Mr. Whitfield was able to . . . get to areas which had been omitted previously, and to work with athletes over a longer period of time . . . .”

In late 1957, Whitfield spent six weeks in East Africa.  The U.S. consulate in Nairobi submitted the following report on his activities in Kenya and Uganda.

“The general impression of Mr. Whitfield’s visit to Kenya and Tanganyika was that personally and technically it has meant a great deal to local athletes and athletic organizations . . . . “

Source: Department of State to Addis Ababa, Khartoum, Leopoldville, Monrovia, Tripoli, and Tunis, Circular Airgram 7006, March 1, 1957, file 032 Whitfield, Mal/3-157, 1955-59 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.

American Consulate Nairobi to Department of State, Despatch 135, October 29, 1957, file 032 Whitfield, Mal/10-2957, 1955-59 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.  The press clippings, photographs, and press releases listed as enclosures are not present in the file.

One thought on “Malvin Whitfield: Ambassador for Track and Field

  1. One wonders whether his visits to Addis and Nairobi encouraged Ethiopian and Kenyan runners to think of competing in the U.S.

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