In Los Angeles, on the lot of an old wooden bungalow on Hobart Boulevard, there is a strange tree.
Down at the intersection, hibiscus blossoms waft across the faded yellow road marking.
Most of the trees here are palms, with elegant, endless trunks whose leaves sway in the wind at breathtaking heights.
The tree is the opposite: it stands like a confused, hairless person in the backyard of the house, arms stretched out helplessly in all directions.
Editor in the Feuilleton.
Follow I follow
The house was sold in 2019, but when word got around that the new owner could tear it down and cut down the tree, which was now suffering from water shortages, there were protests, even the New York Times reported, because the tree is not a normal tree.
He is from Germany.
It was a gift from the Nazis, who resentfully handed it out to Cornelius Johnson, the Afro-American superstar of the American team that competed in the Berlin Olympics.
There is a picture of Johnson from August 2, 1936, when he was just 22 years old and standing on the podium in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin.
It's the first day of the games.
Johnson is at the top, alongside Delos Thurber, who won a bronze medal, and Dave Albritton, who won silver in the high jump;
both like Johnson from the American team.
They're wearing sweatshirts, the kind that first became popular in the 1980s, with USA written in capital letters on all three, like a portent.
Albritton had surpassed the two-metre mark using a new technique known as the straddle style.
Then came Johnson, who jumped the more standard western roll style: 2.07 meters, world record, gold medal.
On the first day of the Games, two African Americans stand on the podium in a country whose leader believes in white supremacy.
Hitler, who had received the previous white medal winners of the day in his box of honor, has gone;
A little later, the NS leadership decides to only receive German winners in the box.
The photo shows that Johnson not only received a medal, but also a small oak tree in a pot.
Every gold medal winner gets one in Berlin in 1936 as a reminder of the supposedly German virtues of strength and inflexibility.
A gold medal doesn't help
For the blond Nazi functionary, who can also be seen in the photo and who grimly raises his arm in the Hitler salute, the sight is certainly painful: the good German oak, and such a beautiful, young one at that, in the hands of an Afro-American athlete who was better than all the Aryans that could be summoned.
Western Roll instead of White Supremacy.
In America, Cornelius Cooper "Corny" Johnson is celebrated as a hero.
On August 28, at the end of the hot Olympic summer, he celebrates his 23rd birthday.
He returns to America, but, as the New York Times reports, President Roosevelt only receives white athletes in the White House;
even a gold medal does not help against the common discrimination.
Johnson plants the small tree in the backyard of his parents' house.
After retiring from pro, he worked in the post office and navy.
In 1946, at the age of 33, he died of pneumonia at sea.
In 2019, his home will be sold by the Mexican-born owners who once inherited it from Johnson's family.
A neighbor alerts artist Christian Kosmas Mayer, who researched and popularized the story of the tree while on a fellowship in Los Angeles for a work.
"I've teamed up with Susan Anderson, a curator at the California African American Museum," Mayer says when we speak to him.
One possible scenario was to put the tree in front of the museum and thus save it from demolition.
"Tree experts say there's a 50 percent chance it will survive, and the cost is $1 million," Mayer says.
But that was not necessary: at his instigation, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission decided last week
The owner now wants to get rid of the protected property quickly;
the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and other institutions like the LA 84 Foundation are raising money to officially make the place what it has always been, unrecognized, a memorial and a symbol of triumph over white racial hatred.