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Olympic Oak: The story of John Woodruff, the 1936 Berlin Olympics & the roots of athlete activism

In 1936, a group of 18 African American athletes traveled to the Berlin Olympics – the most ever as part of Team USA – to pursue the dream of representing their country and competing for Olympic gold. They had waded through a lifetime of discrimination, shut doors and uphill battles.

“Olympic Oak,” tells the story of these Black athletes, focusing on Western Pennsylvania native John Woodruff, a track star who won a gold there. Gold medalists each received an oak sapling, Woodruff planted planted his oak at his former high school in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, where it still grows today. His is one of only four oaks from those games still known to exist in the United States.

What those 18 Black athletes did, winning 10 gold medals altogether, destroyed the master race theory of Adolf Hilter and his Nazi regime. Their accomplishments set the stage for increased racial integration of sports in America – and helped pave the way for the rise and renaissance of athlete activism in this country and elsewhere.

Fast forward to the summer of 2020. Tensions over racial equality and justice boiled over in America – with the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. They weren’t the only Black citizens to be killed by white police officers, they were just among the latest. Americans of all colors took to the streets in protest demanding that something change, finally. Among those calling for accountability, justice and reform were athletes – most notably, Black athletes.

  • Sean Stipp
  • Jason Cato
  • Chris Benson
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short, Web / New Media
  • Runtime:
    28 minutes 1 second
  • Completion Date:
    July 9, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    1,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
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