Edward, Harry Francis Vincent (1895-1973), Harrier and Olympian

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Edward, Harry Francis Vincent (1895-1973), Harrier and Olympian

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15 Apr 1895-8 Jul 1973


Harry Edward served as an Olympic track and field athlete for Great Britain during the 1920 Olympic Games; later committed to humanitarian and civil rights causes; and worked as a United Nations relief worker.

Harry Francis Vincent Edward was born August 15, 1895, in Berlin, Germany, the only son of a Guyanan father and German mother; he had one sister, Irene. Although raised and educated in Germany, he was considered a British subject through his father's lineage. The Germans imprisoned Edward as a prisoner of war in the Internment Camp at Ruhleben, Germany, for the majority of World War I. Following that conflict, Edward immigrated to Great Britain, where, due to his facility with languages, taught French and German at Pitman's School of Business and Civil Service Training in London. He then worked as the French/German correspondent and accountant for the London Soda and Chemical Manufacturing Company and later as the cost accountant in manufacturing of cocoa and chocolates for J. Lyons and Company, Middlesex.

While in London, Edward joined the Polytechnic Harriers Athletic Club and began his career as a track and field athlete. He ran for Great Britain in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium, and won bronze medals in the 100- and 200-meter sprints. He received the Harvey Memorial Gold Cup in 1921 as the best champion of the year in London. In 1922, Edward won three Amateur Athletic Association championships (in the 100-, 220-, and 440-yard dashes) in one day and received personal congratulations from King George V.

Edward married for the first time in 1922 to Antoinette Kohler Regner of Switzerland. In 1923, after passing the professional examination of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries of Joint Stock Companies, Edward decided to try his fortune in the United States and participated in the Wilco Games at Yankee Stadium, as well as in athletic events that the New York and Boston Athletic Clubs sponsored.

As Edward later recounted, "when [he] passed the Statue of Liberty, [he] became black." He initially could not find employment in his field and eventually picked up jobs as a longshoreman, truckman, construction worker, and car washer. Once he found career employment as a cost accountant and office manager for the Sandura Company in Paulsboro, New Jersey, he sent for his wife and her son to join him in the United States. In 1930, he was "laid off" from that job due to his work in civil rights and his marriage to Regner ended a year later. Following Sandura, Edward worked as a field representative for the New York State Employment Service, an advertising manager and accountant for Crisis magazine (whose financial state at the end of his tenure is described by W.E.B. DuBois to Edward as "desperate"), and as a branch store manager for Sheffield Farms. In 1935, he organized, incorporated, and managed Harlem's Own Co-Op, a consumers' cooperative, as well as managed the Works Progress Administration's New York Federal Theatre.

Edward remarried to Gladys Hirst in 1938 and welcomed the birth of their son, William, a year later. Also, in 1939, Edward established the Musical Artists' Bureau. By the war years, Edward served as the chief clerk of the War Price and Rationing Board and supervisor of Fuel Rationing, as well as Rent Examiner of the Office of Price Administration in New York City.

After World War II, he joined the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), working in northern Greece until the agency was liquidated. During this time, he corresponded with Herbert H. Lehman, head of the UNRRA, U.S. housing expert Charles Abrams, and Eleanor Roosevelt, who invited him to visit and discuss resettlement problems. Edward also wrote articles relating to housing problems he encountered during his time in Greece. Upon return to the United States, he worked as a checker and inspector for the Fifth Avenue Coach Company, until he could return to his calling as an aid worker in 1949, when he joined the International Refugee Organization as a Resettlement Officer working in Bavaria, Germany.

In 1952, Edward became the deputy chief of the Asian-American Relations Section of the Committee for Free Asia; this position lasted only about a year. When he returned to New York, he worked as a Macy's stockman and also in sales promotion with the Reliable Remover and Lacquer Corporation. In 1957, he returned to aid work became the director of the Vietnam Foster Parents' Plan.
By the 1960s, Edward volunteered with the New York City Commission for the United Nations and for the Consular Corps. During this period, he received a B.A. and M.A. in international relations from City College of the City University of New York. Using information received from contacts from his work in Vietnam, Edward wrote about America's Vietnam experience from an insider's perspective and corresponded with Senator Jacob Javits about international relations and U.S.-Indochina policy, as well as Robert F. Kennedy regarding foreign aid and human rights. Edward also wrote about the policies of the New York State Employment Service in the 1960s.

His contacts from the "Poly" Harriers athletic club, like MP Philip Noel-Baker and Lord Mayor of London Sir Peter M. Studd, allowed Edward to act as Studd's host during an official visit with John V. Lindsay, mayor of New York in 1971.

Though never published, Edward wrote four drafts of an autobiography in which he discussed his life in detail. Harry Edward died on July 8, 1973.

[Information taken from the Amistad Research Center, New Orleans]


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