Marvelous Malvin Whitfield is a Tuskegee Airman, a former diplomat, an Olympian and among other things, my father-in-law. He earned his Olympic medals running 400m and 800m races during the London and Helsinki games in 1948 and 1952. As he once told me, “The 800 is a man’s race.”
He was recently invited to Helsinki, Finland to take part in a documentary being filmed on Blacks in Finland. There have never been many Blacks in the Scandinavian country. Its population today is 5 million people with less than 20,000 Blacks.
Marvelous Mal is 85 and does not get around the track as well as in the old days. His daughter, and my wife Fredricka, and I traveled with him to help along the way. Mr. Whitfield’s part in the documentary focuses on his time there in 1952; his memories on what he experienced and how he was treated. During the taping he had very vivid memories of walking into the Olympic stadium for the first time, the Finnish ladies who cooked for the American athletes in the athlete’s village and of Finnish Olympic legend Paavo Nurmi, who ran the Olympic flame into the Stadium during the Opening Ceremony.
During our down time, Fredi and I walked and rode the trolley around most of the city. The streets in Helsinki are a joy to walk. Much of the city was built around the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with a unique National character. Some of the best buildings are from the 1920’s.
One of our funniest moments was our first night and we were both awakened by extremely loud, thumping dance music around 2AM. Our hotel was on the main downtown drag, smack dab in the middle of party central. I got up, looked out the window and the street was crawling with loud and wide-awake Finns. We tried to go back to sleep but it was just too noisy. It sounded like the bass and bongo players were in the room with us.
Around 3 AM we decided, if you can’t beat them, join them, so we got up and dressed. As we were leaving the room, Fredi took one last look out the window and noticed it was slightly ajar. Hence the loud ass music. She closed the window and all of a sudden our room was completely sound proof. We laughed about all of the sleep we had lost and decided we are up so lets go hit the streets. And the streets were lively.
After 15 minutes of walking and taking in the scene (trying not to look like tourist) we learned that 3:30 is the club curfew. It was if someone threw a switch and the music slowed to a crawl then died. And instantly the doors of at least five different clubs flew open and out came a ton of more party people.
Lets just say, the Finns take pride in their ability to party (drink) with the best of them and most of this crowd had done their country well. These people had gotten their drink on. We watched as they scampered – some much slower that others – to McDonalds, street vendors and any other place they could find food.
Of course Fredi had to have fries, so we hit the Helsinki MacDonalds then back to our sound proof room.