Celebrating African American Running History (1919 – 1952)
African American Running History Project (1880 – 1979)

Robert Earl Johnson
(1891 – 1965)
The First Great African American Distance Runner

Running History July 12, 1924:
In the cross-country Paris Olympics in 1924, Johnson finished third behind the great Finland duet of Paavo Nurmi and Willie Ritola. Along with receiving the bronze medal and he also led the U.S. cross-country team to a second place silver medal. Johnson also placed 8th out of field of 43 in the Olympic 10,000 meters in 1924; setting a personal best time of 32:17.

Earl Johnson was a two time Olympian (1920 & 1924). History records him as the first internationally ranked African American long distance runner. He competed from 1914 to 1926 from distances of one mile to twenty-three miles. At the time Earl was the only Negro athlete to have made the Olympic team in a distance running event.

Earl Johnson’s U.S. National Championship titles are as follows:
1921 6 Mile Cross-Country
1921 – 1923 5 Mile Track
1921 – 10 Mile Road (victory over Ritola)
1924 10 Mile Road in 54:29 (victory over U.S. marathon Olympians Albert Michelson and James Hennigan)

He finished second to the Willie Ritola in the 1922 Berwick Marathon; a distance of nine and three-quarter miles. His time of 48:36 was just three seconds off the previous course record. The Berwick race has a tremendous history of bringing top college track athletes to race the top road runners. Most of the great runners over the eras starting in 1908 have raced in Berwick, PA on Thanksgiving Day.

Johnson was also a marathon winner. In 1921 and 1923, he was first in the Detroit Marathon, a 22 mile event whose inadequate distance prevented Johnson’s name from appearing in official marathon histories. His time in 1923 was 2:09 which was 8 minutes faster than in 1921. An illness in 1924 prevented him from running the Boston Marathon that year.

Earl Johnson was born in Woodstock, Virginia and graduated from Morgan College in Baltimore. He competed for the Edgar Thompson Steel Works AA team near Pittsburgh. He became a sportswriter for the Pittsburgh Courier and managed an African American sandlot baseball team at Edgar Thomson Works.


Clifton or Clifford “Cliff” Mitchell
The 2nd Known Negro Runner (1920) to Compete in the Boston Marathon

Running History April 19, 1920:
Clifton Mitchell running for the St. Christopher Athletic Club finishes 8th place at the Boston Marathon in a time of 2:41:43. He becomes the second know African American to run this race. The race had 60 starters and was won by Peter Trivoulidas in 2:29:31. Mitchell would finish 13th at Boston in 1921 in 2:40:12.

Clifford Mitchell and teammate Aaron Morris also in 1920 became the first African Americans to run in the historic Berwick Marathon (Race For the Diamonds) finishing 11th and 15th respectively.

Here’s a New York Times description January 16, 1922 of a race won by Mitchell.
“Morningside Run Won By Mitchell”
Matter of Inches Separates Leaders in Road Race Through Snow and Mud.

Over ice and snow and through slush and mud Clifford Mitchell, the dusky runner of the St. Christopher Club plowed his way to a hair-line victory yesterday in the scratch invitational road run of the Morningside A.C. Twelve of the starters succeeded in covering the seven-and-a-half mile course in spite of the terrible conditions underfoot. It was more like a combination skating and swimming race than a road run. The race itself was part and parcel of a training scheme for the Brooklyn Seagate Marathon and another road run for the same purpose will be held next Sunday, but the distance will probably be lengthened to ten miles.

Yesterday’s event over the hills and dales of Harlem had one peculiar feature it looked like a four-man vaudeville act. Right from the start Mitchell jumped into the lead, but he was flanked by Fitzsimmons, McNeil, and Dwyer and the four men ran the whole race practically abreast. Spectators seemed to expect them to burst into harmony as the quartet turned corner after corner without losing alignment. The state of affairs lasted until the home stretch, where Mitchell filed a petition for dissolving the corporation, and dashed off for the tape. The remaining members of the group made it so hot for him that it was only a matter of a few feet between the first and the fourth man, but the St. Christopher athlete held his scant lead and crossed the line a half a stride ahead of Fitzsimmons.

Aaron Morris
The First Known Negro Runner (1919) to Compete in the Boston Marathon

Running History April 19, 1919:
Aaron Morris running for the St. Christopher Athletic Club finishes 6th place at the Boston Marathon in a time of 2:37:31. He becomes the first know African American to run this race. The race had 25 finishers and was won by Carl Linder in 2:29:13.

Running History by Aaron Morris:
Aaron Morris and teammate Clifton Mitchell in 1920 became the first African Americans to run in the historic Berwick Marathon (Race For the Diamonds) finishing 15th and 11th respectively.

“During the evening of Thursday, May 25, the management will present the handsome silver cup offered to the first colored runner who finished in the modified Marathon race conducted last Saturday by the New York Evening Mail. Aaron Morris of the St. Christopher Club, who finished fifth in that race, was the first colored boy to finish, and he will receive the prize.”
Source: The New York Age – May 25, 1916

“Aaron Morris, St. Christopher Club, romped home seventh in the five and one-half mile handicap road run staged Memorial Day by St. Michael’s Catholic Club in Wes Hoboken. Morris made the best time over the course.”
Source: The New York Age – June 1, 1916

Halpin Wins Harlem Race By Big Sprint
“Terry Halpin of the Morningside Athletic Club won a bitter duel from Aaron Morris, St. Christopher Club in the scratch six mile race held by the Harlem Athletic League over the course of the Glencoe Athletic Club. Halpin succeeded in beating Morris by ten yards through a stronger sprint in the final yards. The time of 32m, 35s speaks well for the fast running of Halpin.”
Source: The Evening World – February 25, 1918

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