Milton “Milt” G. Campbell Sr., ’57, was the first African American to win Olympic gold in the decathlon.
Campbell was a senior in high school when he won his first Olympic medal, the silver in the decathlon at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. Originally, he tried to qualify for America’s Olympic team as a high hurdler, but he finished fourth during the tryouts. Campbell tried the decathlon for the first time and qualified for the team.
“I was stunned,” Campbell explained in David Wallechinsky’s book The Complete Book of the Summer Olympics. “But then God seemed to reach into my heart and tell me he didn’t want me to compete in the hurdles, but in the decathlon.”
At the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, Campbell earned the gold medal.
At IU, he was an NCAA champion in the high hurdles and a standout for the football team. In 1957, the NFL’s Cleveland Browns drafted Campbell, and he played there for one season as a running back. He then played for various teams in the Canadian Football League until his football career ended in 1964.
He returned to his home state of New Jersey, where he started doing humanitarian work, including opening a private school for underprivileged children and co-founding a community center. Campbell also became a motivational speaker.
He was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, the International Swimming Hall of Fame, and the New Jersey Hall of Fame. In 2000, Campbell was named the New Jersey Sportswriters Association’s New Jersey Athlete of the Century.
In an interview with The Star-Ledger, Campbell recalled a conversation he had as a teenager with his high school track coach. “He asked me what I wanted to be. I told him, ‘The best athlete in Plainfield.’ Then it became ‘the best in New Jersey’ and ‘the best in America’ and ‘the best in the world.’”
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of the IU Alumni Magazine. It is now part of our Black History Month series, IU’s Black History Makers.