Boston Marathon organizers have publicly apologized for hosting the 125th edition of the world’s most celebrated running race on Indigenous Peoples Day.
Now they’re looking to redeem themselves by shining the spotlight on a member of the Narragansett tribe from Rhode Island who won the race twice in the 1930s and inspired the name ‘Heartbreak Hill’ to describe the most iconic section – and dreaded – of the course.
The Boston Athletic Association, which administers the marathon, said Monday it will honor the legacy of the late Ellison “Tarzan” Brown, Boston champion in 1936 and 1939, as the race organization approaches, as amended by the pandemic on October 11.
The Boston Marathon is traditionally held in mid-April, the Massachusetts Patriots’ unique holiday. In 2020, it was canceled in its traditional format for the first time due to the coronavirus pandemic, and due to a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, it is taking place this year in the fall rather than in the spring.
Next month’s run falls on Indigenous Peoples Day – seen in some places as an alternative to Columbus Day – and this angered enough people for the BAA in August to issue “its sincere apologies to all Indigenous Peoples who have turned up. felt ignored or feared the importance of indigenous peoples. “The day would be erased. “
Massachusetts doesn’t officially recognize Indigenous Peoples Day, but Newton – who is on the marathon course – does.
Eighty-five years after his historic first victory, Brown’s descendants have applauded the recognition of their acclaimed ancestor.
“Running and winning the Boston Marathon was something grandpa loved,” said Anna Brown-Jackson, a granddaughter of Brown.
“Being an Aboriginal person meant everything to Grandpa because he was very competitive at the start,” she said. “If someone told him that he couldn’t do something, whether it be winning the marathon or crossing a dirt road to collect seashells for his family, he would make sure to prove them wrong and do it. . “
Brown, whose tribal nickname was Deerfoot, set a world record with his second victory in Boston and represented the United States at the 1936 Hitler Olympics in Berlin alongside the great Jesse Owens.
But he’s best known for breaking onto the nascent US long-distance running scene with his first victory in 1936, when several Boston champions Johnny Kelley were overwhelmingly favorites.
Media reports from 1936 indicate that Brown had taken a considerable lead in the 26.2 mile (42.2 kilometer) race when Kelley caught him near the 20 mile (32 kilometer) mark in the Newton Hills. Kelley, they say, gave Brown a patronizing pat on the back as if to say, “Nice try – I’ll take it from here.”
It turned out badly. Brown took off, leaving Kelley in her dust and breaking her heart.
“He ran like a bat out of hell,” the Boston Globe reported at the time. Brown won in 2 hours, 33 minutes, 40 seconds; three years later, in his second victory, he was the first to beat 2:30 with a time of 2:28:51.
Brown became an instant hero to the indigenous peoples of North America. But like other high performance Indigenous athletes of his time, he fought hard against discrimination and marginalization.
In 1975, he died at the age of 60 after being deliberately run over by a car in the parking lot of a Rhode Island bar.