Johnson, Albritton, and Thurber’s Patriotic and Defiant Bellamy Salute in Response to Hitler’s Snub at Berlin in 1936

Submitted by Raymond T Stefani, Ph. D.*

Dr. Raymond Stefani is an emeritus professor of Engineering at the California State University, Long Beach, USA. His more than 120 sports publications are evenly divided between individual and team sports. He seeks a fundamental understanding of the physics, physiology, causes of gender differential performance, rates of improvement, effect of historical events and effects of performance enhancing drugs related to Olympic gold medal performances in athletics (track and field), swimming, rowing and speed skating. He has analyzed Olympic home nation medal advantage He developed a least squared team rating system applied to predicting the outcome of more than 20,000 games of American football, basketball, European soccer, Australian Rules football, and Super Rugby. Home advantage has been studied in those contexts. He has contributed to the understanding of the types and application of 100 international sport rating systems (both for individuals and teams) and their ability to predict the outcome of world and Olympic championship events. He contributed to the millennium edition of the New York Times. He has presented his work to eleven organizations conducting conferences in ten nations on three continents. Dr. Stefani invites collaboration with colleagues from around the world.


Stepping to the podium for the last medal ceremony on August 2, 1936, day one of athletics competition at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, were the three Americans that swept the men’s long jump: Cornelius Johnson (gold), David Albritton (silver) and Delos Thurber (bronze). Johnson and Albritton were black. That ceremony formed a watershed for those Games: Hitler had personally congratulated all of the earlier winners on August 2, 1936; but, he left before that medal ceremony and ceased to congratulate winners starting on day two, rather than congratulate all future winners. Hitler was told to congratulate all winners or no winners by the IOC President after his non-attendance at the men’s long jump medal ceremony.  It was on day two that Jesse Owens won the 100-meter run and was not congratulated. Public attention then shifted to Owens, removing attention from the actual snub of Johnson, Albritton, and Thurber that had led to action by the IOC President. This paper interprets two photos of the three Americans saluting in unison, but with two different postures:  an American military salute and a straight-armed salute with palms turned upward. To understand their salute, three contexts were studied: salutes performed at the Games, activities leading up to that moment on August 2, 1936 and the American flag-saluting practice of that era. Johnson, Albritton, and Thurber were arguably making an elegant yet forceful statement of solidarity and defiance in performing the Bellamy or Flag Salute, a unique-at-those-Games act of patriotism little known in the present but, none-the-less an act deserving of recognition.

Key words: 1936 Olympics, Hitler’s snub, Bellamy Salute, Cornelius Johnson, David Albrittion, Delos Thurber, Jesse Owens.


The 1936 Berlin Olympics dawned on a social landscape of political and racial polarization. Nations were torn between democracy on one side and the Fascism of Spain and Italy and the National Socialism of Germany on the other side. The goal of this paper is to interpret a salute that occurred on August 2, 1936, the first day of athletics (track and field) competition at those Games. At the last event of that day, three Americans swept the men’s long jump: Cornelius Johnson won the gold medal; David Albritton won the silver medal, while Delos Thurber won the bronze medal (20). Johnson and Albritton were black (2). Figure 1 shows two photos of their salute at the medal ceremony. Next to the athletes on both photos are the same officials, indicating the temporal proximity of the photos. The bottom photo of Figure 1, taken with permission from the Corbus Archives (10), shows these three performing an American military salute.  The top photo in Figure 1, taken with permission from the 1936 Official Report of the Berlin Olympics Organizing Committee [(8), p 665]), shows the three Americans performing a straight-armed salute with palms turned upward. Since Johnson and Albritton were black, the notorious black power salute of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics comes to mind, now immortalized by a statue in San Jose, California (17). In 1968, the white silver medalist, Peter Norman of Australia, showed solidarity with the two black Americans by wearing the same civil rights patch that they wore. In 1936, Thurber showed solidarity by performing the same salute in unison with his black teammates. The two photos are enigmatic as to the temporal order of the two actions and the meaning of an upturned wrist rather than the more familiar flat-palmed Nazi/Fascist salute of that day. An extensive literature review has failed to locate commentary on the salute of Figure 1.

To understand the meaning of these two photos, three contexts are established in the remainder of this paper. The first context is the saluting practices at the 1936 Berlin Games, established from film and documents. The second context is what the three Americans would have experienced on August 2, 1936 leading up to the medal ceremony. The third context is the American flag saluting practice of that era. Having established context, a suggestion is made as to the temporal order of the photos in Figure 1 and as to the intent of those three Americans. An epilogue contains subsequent events triggered by the medal ceremony. The final section summarizes this paper.

Olympic, Nazi and Fascist Salutes at the Opening Ceremony

The Olympic Games are obviously a time of symbolism, witness the Olympic Rings, Olympic Flame, team uniforms and, at Berlin, swastikas visible throughout the Olympic venues. It is only logical that national officials would have been careful to decide how each nation would salute while crossing in front of Hitler’s loge box, clearly visible to anyone in the Olympic stadium. It was important to make national solidarity clear. There were two basic salutes to choose from: the Olympic Salute and the Nazi/Fascist Salute.  Of course a nation could chose not to salute at all.

The 1924 Official Report of the Paris Olympic Games includes a classical drawing of athletes saluting with the right arm extended upward and to the right from the forward direction, the so-called Olympic Salute of that era (5). The athlete taking the 1924 Olympic oath is shown performing that salute (5).

In 1923, the Fascist Salute was mandated in Italy as part of a flag ritual in schools and then adopted by Mussolini’s regime by 1925 (4). The straightened arm is extended upward; but, unlike the Olympic Salute, the arm is extended directly forward or somewhat to the right but generally not more than 45 degrees to the right. The Nazi Salute is basically the same as the Fascist Salute. The Nazi Salute was used by the Nazi Party starting in about 1923 and was made compulsory by the Party in 1926 (6). We have reviewed many photos of Fascist and Nazi salutes using Google Images. In public ceremonies, an official on the dais would tend to extend the arm almost vertically while the audience would extend the arm forward at 45 degrees elevation or less. The Olympic Salute clearly differs by the angling of the arm to the extreme right.

The first two hours of the Leni Riefenstahl movie Olympia, “The Festival of Nations”, primarily covers athletics (called track and field in some nations) while the last two hours, “The Festival of Beauty” primarily covers events outside of the Olympic Stadium. “The Festival of Nations” was examined to view the saluting practices in the opening march of athletes, the affected events of day one of athletics competition and other medal ceremonies in athletics. It should be noted that Olympia was made at the behest of the IOC, under supervision of the governing federation of athletics, the IAAF, and not at the behest of the German Government. The movie was originally released in 1938 and has since been edited into various versions in various languages. We found the coverage viewed to be a balanced treatment of athletics completion, covering spectators and athletes of various nations and races reasonably equally, often showing Hitler and Goering in unguarded moments as spectators much like the audience, rather than as their masters. Readers are encouraged to view Olympia, which can be downloaded from internet sources such as Google and Yahoo and to form their own judgments.

We have seen the original of the two-volume 1936 Official Report of the Berlin Organizing Committee in the IOC Library at Lausanne Switzerland (8). Actual photos are pasted into the original.  The original report contains official German government stamps of approval which demonstrate a degree of approval to the photos and statements that cast what we believe to be a favorable light upon athletes of many nations and in particular upon African-American athletes. The former Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, now the LA84 foundation, maintains an extensive library of Olympic-related material, much of which, including both volumes of the 1936 Official Report, may be downloaded from A researcher should select “Search the full-text digital collection” and download any report.

Limitations placed on Riefenstahl’s filming by the IAAF are included in the 1936 Official Report. Riefenstahl shows the Opening Ceremony march of athletes for 11 of the 50 nations. The marching order shown is not in the actual order from the 1936 Official Report. Those 11 nations are listed below, in actual marching order as per the 1936 Official Report. The Nazi/Fascist Salute will simply be referred to as a Nazi Salute. The salutes shown in the movie are classified as an Olympic salute (right arm at 90 degrees to the right), a Nazi Salute (arm pointed forward) or neither: Nazi (3 nations, Italy, Austria and Germany), Olympic (2 nations, Greece and France) and neither (6 nations, Great Britain, India, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland and USA).

The issue of Canada’s salute in the opening ceremony was raised in 2004 by Pitsula who indicated that another version of “The Festival of Nations” exists. In that version, Riefenstahl shows Canadian athletes in the opening march instead of Austrian athletes. Pitsula indicates that Canada has unjustly been criticized for performing a Nazi Salute when in fact Canadian athletes were performing the Olympic Salute (11). To include Canada and to make the survey more comprehensive, we reviewed photos of the entrance of all 50 nations in the 1936 Official Report. Of those 50 nations, 37 exhibited neither the Olympic nor Nazi Salute, nine nations exhibited the Olympic Salute (Greece, Bulgaria, Colombia, Estonia, France, Canada, Monaco, Peru and Hungary in marching order), while four nations performed the Nazi salute (Afghanistan, Italy, Austria and Germany in marching order). The photo of Canada’s athletes appears to support Pitsula’s contention that Canada performed the Olympic Salute.

As World War 2 began three years later, we would expect that nation’s performing the Nazi salute in the Opening Ceremony to join the Axis or at least remain neutral. Similarly, teams performing the Olympic salute would be expected to join the Allies, or at least remain neutral. Of the four nations using the Nazi salute, Afghanistan remained neutral at the start of World War 2 while the other three nations formed the Axis (19). Of the nine nations using the Olympic salute, Estonia and Monaco tried to remain neutral; but, each was immediately occupied. Bulgaria and Hungary fought for the Axis, the opposite of what we would expect while the other five nations joined the Allies. Thus, of the 10 nations which saluted and did not try to remain neutral, eight (80%) went on to form wartime solidarity as each had formed saluting solidarity in the Opening Ceremony. Indeed, the salutes were meaningful.

Athletics Events on August 2, 1936

In order to fully understand the circumstances surrounding the medal ceremony in the men’s high jump, the events of August 2, 1936 are covered in detail. Table 1 contains the four events completed on August 2, 1936, the first day of athletics competition, i.e. the women’s javelin, men’s 10 k run, men’s shot put and men’s high jump. Shown are starting times, the format for each and approximate ending times. Events are listed in order of estimated ending time [(8), pp 636, 637, 664, 665, 678, 679, 698, 699]. Table 2 contains the medal winners in each of those events [(20), pp 272, 344, 380, 501], winning performances and the comparable winning performances at the 2012 Olympics.

The women’s javelin competition began with trials at 3 PM for 14 competitors [(8), pp 698, 699]. Based on competition format and an estimate of the time for each throw, that competition would have been over at about 4:30 PM, about one hour prior to the semifinals and finals of the other three events [(8), pp 698, 699]. New York Times writer Daley sent an account by wireless “And when (Miss Fleischer) climbed to the victory pedestal she stood with arms outstretched in the Nazi salute to Hitler. To her went the distinction of being the first Olympic champion of 1936” (2). The 1936 Official Report contains a picture of Fleischer meeting with a smiling Hitler and Goering in Hitler’s loge [(8), p 699].

The men’s 10 k was contested directly as a final event for 17 runners starting at 5:30 PM [(8), pp 636,637]. That event would have ended at about 6:15 PM, well after the javelin ended and before the two men’s field events would end. Indeed, Daley’s article mentions the three events being contested simultaneously. After running a tactical race (14), at the medal ceremony, the three Finnish runners are standing at attention but are not saluting [(8), p 637]. Wallechinsky, Schaap (16) and Daley indicate that Hitler honored those three at his loge.

The men’s shot put competition began with 22 athletes at an 11 AM elimination competition [(8), pp 678, 679]. Based on competition format, eliminations and estimates for the time of each throw, that completion would have ended at about 6:30 PM, about 15 minutes after completion of the 10 k running event.  Woellke won with an Olympic record distance. Olympia shows his winning throw, much to the delight of Hitler (15). In Figure 2, shown with permission, the photo of the shot put medal ceremony shows the two German medalists facing to the viewer’s left towards the raised flags while performing the Nazi salute. Most in the audience are doing the same while the members of the Hitler’s loge box salute to the viewers left except for one person (probably Hitler) who faces the camera with hand drawn back [(8), p 679]. Note that the photo is carefully framed so that Hitler’s loge box appears immediately above the heads of the medalists. Wallechinsky, Schaap and Daley all indicate that Hitler welcomed Woellke to his loge box.

The men’s high jump competition began at 10:30 AM with 40 athletes, 22 of whom cleared 1.85 m while 18 were eliminated [(8), pp 664, 665]. The semifinals began at 3:00 PM, after which 13 of the remaining 22 were eliminated, moving 9 into the finals to start at 5:30 PM, at the same time as the men’s shot put semifinals and the men’s 10 k run. There were 18 attempts at 1.97 m, with four being eliminated in a sixth place tie, followed by 12 attempts among the remaining five at 2.00 m with one being eliminated in fifth place and four moving to 2.03 m. After 10 attempts by the remaining jumpers, only African-American Cornelius Johnson cleared 2.03 m, making him the Olympic champion. Johnson was unsuccessful in three attempts at 2.08 m, leaving a three-way tie to be decided for the other two medal positions. The kinematics of the competitors, as shown in Riefenstahl’s movie, provides a look at the evolution of high jump technique (3). Each Japanese jumper made a take off with both legs aimed horizontally toward the bar. Each reversed leg position by 180-degrees. After clearing the bar, the trunk was rotated so the jumper landed facing the bar. The three Americans used three different techniques. Delos Thurber moved straight towards the bar, hurdled the bar with the lead leg and, while moving forward, swept the trailing leg over the bar. Johnson and fellow African-American David Albritton efficiently used the western roll technique, crossing the bar while lying on their sides. Albritton straddled the bar much more than Johnson. Although the 1936 Official Report considered Albritton’s style to be unusual, the straddle-roll became the dominant jumping style until the advent of the Fosbury Flop in the 1968 Olympics (3, 18).

According to a notation in the 1936 Official Report “The jump-off for sixth place did not take place by special order” [(8, p 664]. The reason to break the sixth place tie is that the first six finishers receive a certificate.  A “special order” would imply intervention by a top official in the IAAF with advice and consent, if not actual intervention, by IOC President Count Henri de Baillet-Latour. Such intervention may well have been to keep the remaining competition from inconveniencing the crowd and to make it easier for Hitler to congratulate the eventual medalist.

After a jump-off, David Albritton was declared silver medalist while Delos Thurber won the bronze, giving the USA a sweep [(8), p 664]. The time was approaching 7 PM and the medal ceremony was about to start. Daley, Schaap and Wallenchinsky indicate that Hitler left about 5 minutes before the medal ceremony was to begin, in spite of the above-mentioned effort at the highest level to shorten the event [(8), p 664].

Lennartz described the scene the three Americans would have experienced minutes earlier when Hitler had invited the six medal winners from the men’s shot put and men’s 10 k run to his box for congratulation which “was visible in the whole stadium and spectators applauded”.  Judging from Figure 2, it would have been equally visible when Hitler left prior to the medal ceremony to honor Johnson, Albritton, and Thurber (2)

The Salute in the Men’s High Jump Medal Ceremony (The Bellamy or American Flag Salute)

Today’s generation can only wonder how those two photos in Figure 1 are related and how the athletes arrived at the identical arm positions with hands rotated, palm upward. Americans of Johnson, Albritton, and Thurber’s generation had been educated by the American school system and would have recognized that the two parts of Figure 1 represent the Bellamy or Flag Salute dating back to 1892, some 30 years before the origin of the Olympic, Fascist and Nazi salutes. In 1892, Francis Bellamy published the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag (1). To accompany the recital of that pledge, Bellamy provided instructions for a salute to the American flag. “At a signal from the Principal the pupils … face the flag. Another signal is given: each pupil gives the flag the military salute – right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead. Standing thus, all repeat together slowly ‘I pledge allegiance to my Flag…’. At the words ‘to my flag’ the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the flag…” (Note that “to my flag” is now worded “to the flag of the United States of America”.) If we search for “Bellamy Salute” using Google Images and Google Videos, we will find a number of photos and videos showing American school children of the 1920s to early 1940s performing the military salute followed by extending the arm.

The two photos of Figure 1 are consistent with Johnson, Albritton, and Thurber performing the Bellamy Salute that each probably had done many times before, a salute that in effect overarches the Nazi salute with their own literal twist, a movement that Americans seeing the photos would have recognized but a twist unfamiliar to the German editors who included the top photo of Figure 1 in the 1936 Official Report. Following the Bellamy Salute protocol, the three medalists would have begun with the military salute shown at the bottom of Figure 1; thus, the official photographer would have taken the bottom photo of Figure 1 first. As the US National Anthem began, each probably extended the arm outward with palm turned generally upward as in the top photo in Figure 1 in which the photographer moved in for a close-up, eliciting the curiosity of the leftmost official. As interesting as what is shown, is what is not shown. While the photo in Figure 2, taken earlier, carefully framed Hitler’s loge above the medalists, both photos of Figure 1 are framed to avoid showing the then–empty loge of Hitler.

Having established context, a suggestion is now made as to the intent of these three Americans. Given that about one-quarter of the nations in the opening ceremony performed a salute as a public show of unity, given that German winners of August 2, 1936 had used a Nazi salute as a public display, given that German and Finnish medalists had been congratulated publicly by Hitler in his loge box, given the very public exit taken by Hitler five minutes before their ceremony, given the firm, resolute appearance of the three American with arms thrust  carefully forward in identical poses, wrists carefully twisted, palms upward, it may well be that Johnson, Albritton, and Thurber purposely performed the Bellamy Salute as a public act of American solidarity and defiance. Had they merely performed the military part of the salute in the bottom part of Figure 1, that act would have been expected. Instead, they added an antithetic twisted wrist to the Nazi Salute which I believe showed their defiance to Hitler leaving and to the officials immediately to their right and some spectators who were performing the Nazi Salute. As will be noted in the Epilogue, the Bellamy Salute was not performed by anyone after them. This was an act of the moment, their moment. The camera’s lens captured an elegant act by Johnson, Albritton, and Thurber, forever frozen in time by the pages of the 1936 Official Report and by the Corbis archives.


Daley wired the NY Times with his reaction to Hitler’s departure prior to the medal ceremony for Johnson, Albritton, and Thurber. Daley noted that the day’s earlier winners had been congratulated by Hitler “with a handclasp and words of encouragement”.  “But five minutes before the United States jumpers moved in for the ceremony of Olympic triumph Hitler left the box. Johnson and Albritton are Negroes. None of the others were. Press box interpreters chose to put two and two together and arrive at the figure four. In this they may be correct, but there will be enough Negro winners to warrant delaying passing judgment for the present. One almost certain negro champion seems to be Jesse Owens.” (2)

Whether Hitler would or would not have congratulated Owens in public was preempted. After Hitler left the stadium before the medal ceremony for the three Americans, the Belgian IOC President Count Henri de Baillet-Latour acted. De Baillet-Latour informed Hitler via German IOC member Karl Ritter von Halt that it was a violation of protocol for a head of state to honor some but not all winners. Hitler was so notified either the evening of August 2 or the morning of August 3 (7). The Chancery responded on August 4,1936, indicating that Hitler would no longer invite winners to his loge box using the excuse that he would not be able to be at all finals. Hitler reserved the right to honor German winners outside of his box and to honor all winners after the Closing Ceremony, collectively but not personally (7). On August 3, Hitler stopped inviting winners to his loge box, which included Jesse Owens who won that day. In his autobiography, Owens states “When I passed the Chancellor, he arose, waved his hand at me and I waved back. I think the writers showed bad taste in criticizing the man of the hour.” (9) We must admire the nobility and dignity of Owens in making that gracious statement. It is none-the-less true that waiving at Owens from above and actually shaking his hand are not at all equivalent.

We have reviewed all 1224 pages the 1936 Official Report. Medal ceremonies for 14 of the 23 men’s athletics events are shown as well as for three of the women’s six events. The Nazi salute was performed by nine German medal winners and two Italian medal winners. One Canadian medal winner (Edwards in the men’s 800 m run) appears to be performing the Nazi salute; however, he probably meant to perform the Olympic Salute but could not do so because of the placement of athletes on the medal stand. All Americans other than for the men’s high jump performed a salute as in the bottom of Figure 1, including Jesse Owens [(8) and Olympia]. The salute of Johnson, Albritton, and Thurber was a unique act at those Games.

The August 8, 1936 headlines of The Afro American, a Baltimore newspaper, proclaimed “Adolf  Snubs U.S Lads”, “Hitler Won’t Shake Hands” and “Intentional Discourtesy to Owens, Johnson”. A cause célèbre became the snubbing of Jesse Owens by Hitler with the actual snubbing of Johnson being relegated in importance along with the photo of the salute by Johnson, Albritton, and Thurber.

After the USA entered World War 2, the protocol associated with the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag was changed. On June 22, 1942, the initial military salute which had begun the Pledge of Allegiance salute was changed to placing the hand over the heart (12). Next, the USA dropped the extended arm portion of the protocol on December 22, 1942, requiring that the Pledge be recited with the hand over the heart only (13).


Of the 50 nations at the Opening Ceremony, nine performed the Olympic Salute (arm at 90 degrees to the right) while four performed the Nazi Salute (arm forward). Of the 10 nations that saluted but did not remain neutral, 80% sided with the Allies (Olympic Salute) or the Axis (Nazi Salute) as indicated by their salute at the Opening Ceremony. The salute was highly significant. On the first day of athletics (track and field) competition on August 2, 1936, Hitler personally congratulated Tilly Fleischer (Germany), the day’s first winner in the women’s javelin, three Finish runners who medaled in the 10 k run and Hans Woellke (Germany), the winner in the men’s shot put. Hitler left his very visible loge box about five minutes before the last medal ceremony of the day, the ceremony for the three American men’s high jump medalists: Cornelius Johnson (gold medal), David Albritton (silver medal) and Delos Thurber (bronze medal). Johnson and Albritton were black. When Jesse Owens medaled in the men’s 100 m run the next day, Hitler had stopped congratulating winners in his loge, thus it was Johnson and not Owens who was snubbed by Hitler. Relegated to obscurity is that while on the victory stand, Johnson, Albrittion and Thurber appear to have performed the Bellamy Salute which was an act of American patriotism that predated the Nazi, Fascist, and Olympic Salutes by about 30 years. They may have chosen that salute to overarch the Nazi salute with a twist of the wrist, an act of American solidarity and defiance.  It is the intention of this paper to call attention to that elegant act, forever frozen in time in the pages of the 1936 Official Report of the 1936 Berlin Olympics and in the Corbin Archives.


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Figure 1: Medal Ceremony for the Men’s High Jump. From left to right are Thurber (USA, Bronze), Johnson (USA, Gold)  and Albritton (USA, Silver).


[1936 Official Report, with permission]



[Corbis archives, U781993INP, with permission]


Figure 2: Medal Ceremony for the Men’s Shot Put. From left to right are Stöck (GER, Bronze), Woellke (GER, Gold) and Bärlund (FIN, Silver).


[1936 Official Report with permission]




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