Milwaukee renames street in honor of Marquette alum Ralph Metcalfe

The name Ralph Metcalfe can conjure up many images. An Olympic sprinter breaking all records. A forward-thinking U.S. Representative. A diligent graduate of Marquette University.

But for New Yorker Nasser Metcalfe, he will always only see his beloved grandfather.

“This beautiful community is named after Metcalfe,” said Metcalfe’s grandson, who shared a few words on behalf of his family at an event showcasing the city of Milwaukee’s latest effort to honor the Metcalfe legacy.

“I declare today that we are all Metcalfes – each and every one of us – and that his name, his work, his legacy and all that means will carry on in each of us and into our generations to come.” he added, holding Ralph Metcalfe. watching and talking to a crowd of residents.

Fall foliage is seen in the background as 34th Street is renamed in honor of Olympic athlete, U.S. Representative and scholar Ralph Metcalfe Saturday at 3401 W. Center St. in Milwaukee.

The ceremony held Saturday in Milwaukee’s Metcalfe Rising Park at 3401 W. Center St. unveiled the renaming of part of the approximately four-mile stretch of North 34th Street – a main street running from Metcalfe Park near West Meinecke Avenue towards Glendale. The honorary street name will be applied to signs that line 34th Street from West North Avenue to West Center Street.

This isn’t the first time the town has celebrated Metcalfe, which also has a park, school and West Side neighborhood named after it.

The event drew residents young and old to its namesake park, where organizers also handed out community resources on voting and housing.

Patrice Gransberry applauds as New York's Nasser Metcalfe talks about his grandfather during the celebration renaming 34th Street in honor of Olympian, U.S. Representative and scholar Ralph Metcalfe Saturday at 3401 W. Center St. in Milwaukee .

“I’m lucky to be in the neighborhood where I grew up and see the name change,” said Melody McCurtis, assistant manager of Metcalfe Park Community Bridges, which hosted the ceremony.

“We will celebrate this historic moment and we will continue,” she added. “It’s almost as if Ralph Metcalfe has passed the torch to our community.

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Many members from the area attended, including District 15 Ald. Russell W. Stamper II, whose district includes the sites renamed in Metcalfe’s honor, and former district councilman Willie Hines Jr., and Wisconsin Black Historical Society founder and director Clayborn Benson.

Benson was one of the people who submitted a request to have the signs renamed in honor of Metcalfe, which was later approved by the city council.

“We’re not just talking about a student who comes to Marquette and runs on the track,” Benson said. “He was committed to this community.”

Who was Ralph Metcalfe?

Born in Atlanta in 1910, Metcalfe was primarily raised and schooled in Chicago.

It was while in high school that he began his long and successful career as a track athlete. After graduating in 1930, Metcalfe moved to Milwaukee, where he enrolled at Marquette University.

This is where his fame took root and his impact on the city began.

Metcalfe was named America’s top sprinter between 1932 and 1934, according to his Marquette University Biography.

He competed in the 1936 Olympics held in Nazi Germany, where he and Jesse Owens ran for the US Olympic team in the 400 meter relay. They finally won gold. Metcalfe also won a silver medal in the 100 meters, losing to Owens. Metcalfe then retired from competitive sports.

After a career as a teacher and coach and later serving in World War II, Metcalfe entered the political sphere, rising from director of the Chicago Civil Rights Department to alderman and temporary city council president to member of the United States House of Representatives in the space of 30 years.

During his time as a politician, Metcalfe helped found the Congressional Black Caucus and co-sponsored legislation that would eventually declare February as Black History Month.

On October 10, 1978, Metcalfe died suddenly of an apparent heart attack. He was 68 years old.

Contact Vanessa Swales at 414-308-5881 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @Vanessa_Swales.

Naomi C. Amerson