High School

Rafer Johnson, Olympian and L.A. hero, is the subject of LA84 Foundation exhibit

An oil painting depicts Rafer Johnson carrying the Olympic torch at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984.
(LA84 Foundation)

Rafer Johnson, an L.A. hero who won the Olympic decathlon gold medal in 1960 and has been recognized for his humility, service and sportsmanship, will be honored with a new exhibit opening April 29 at the LA84 Foundation in Los Angeles.

The display will be on view through December.

Items include Johnson’s 1955 Pan American Games jersey and competitor number; his 1958 Sports Illustrated trophy for sportsman of the year; Johnson’s bronze shoes from the 1960 Olympic Games decathlon; the 1960 US Olympic Team travel bag; awards including his 1994 Theodore Roosevelt Award, 2016 UCLA Medal, 1984 Fair Play Award from the Fair Housing Council of the San Fernando Valley and his 1987 U.S. Constitution “Spirit of America” Award; as well as letters written to Johnson by notable figures such as Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Eunice Kennedy Shriver and coach Elvin “Ducky” Drake.

Johnson was born in Hillsboro, Texas, and became the second African American student body president at UCLA. He played basketball for John Wooden and won gold in Rome in 1960 in the decathlon.


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His bond with the Kennedy family is eternal: Johnson was on Robert F. Kennedy’s last campaign and wound up wrestling the gun from his assassin. Soon after, Johnson was collaborating with Eunice Kennedy Shriver to grow the Special Olympics. For 50 years since, Johnson has been a leading voice and presence in the movement to normalize the lives of, and the perception of, people with intellectual disabilities.

Public viewing of the exhibition will be available by appointment and during open house at the LA84 Foundation.