Coubertin Quote for Jan, 15
Men hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they are separated from each other.

“Men hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they are separated from each other.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today’s quote comes from a guest speaker whose philosophy is closely aligned with Pierre de Coubertin’s in many ways:  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   In honor of our national holiday, we pay homage to Dr. King and acknowledge the debt our nation owes to him for his brilliant moral leadership, inspiring oratory and ultimate sacrifice. This quote is from a speech Dr. King delivered at the Conference on Christian Faith and Human Relations in Nashville on April 25, 1957.  In his message, entitled “The Role of the Church in Facing the Nation’s Chief Moral Dilemma,” Dr. King railed against the evils of segregation as he did throughout his life.

It is clear from the progression of his logic in this brief, powerful statement, that Dr. King was moving toward a call for regular contact between the races.  In fact, his next line stated that basic idea: “And only by keeping the channels of communication open can we know each other.”

You don’t have to look far to find a parallel quote from Pierre de Coubertin because the whole purpose of the Olympic Games is to bring the world together in friendship and peace. As noted here on January 8th, Coubertin was working for better race relations from the outset: “Wars break out because nations misunderstand each other. We shall not have peace until the prejudices that now separate the different races are outlived. To attain this end, what better means is there than to bring the youth of all countries periodically together for amicable trials of muscular strength and agility?”

The alignment of their ideas suggests that Coubertin and King were kindred spirits in many ways—despite the fact that they were born sixty-six years apart in vastly different circumstances.  From the beginning, Coubertin demanded that the Olympic Games be open to everyone without discrimination.  “The Games are global,” he once said. “All people must be allowed in, without debate.”

In truth, the Olympic Games provided a broad platform for the inclusion and advancement of African-American athletes long before any other major sporting institution.  The first African-American to win an Olympic medal was George Poage, who took bronze in the 400 meter hurdles in the 1904 St. Louis Olympics.  William DeHart Hubbard became the first African-American Olympic gold medalist when he won the long jump in Paris 1924.  While Major League Baseball loves to celebrate 1947 as the year Jackie Robinson broke the race barrier, Jackie’s older brother, Mack, came in second to Jesse Owens in the 200-meter race at the Berlin 1936 Olympic Games eleven years earlier.  Martin Luther King, Jr., was seven-years old when Jesse Owens won four gold medals in Berlin—and Owens and his 17 African-American teammates collected 14 medals overall, 25% of all the medals won by Team USA.

On this day, in which we honor Dr. King’s memory, it’s not hard to imagine that somewhere across the course of his vibrant life he took great pride in and drew deep inspiration from the performance of his brothers and sisters on the great global stage Coubertin created.

"Martin Luther King, Jr. 1964 (source/ Library of Congress)" by Mike Licht, is licensed under CC BY 2.0