If asked for the name of the first black woman to win an Olympic Gold Medal, I would not have come up with Alice Coachman Davis. She won in 1948 at the games in London for the high jump. (More)
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She died on July 14th at the age of 90. I heard about her on CBC’s “As it Happens. I took notes during the radio show and this is part of her story.
She wasn’t allowed to use public training facilities in the 1940’s in Georgia. She was largely self taught and used strings tied to trees to practice her jumping. A college in Albany, Georgia finally had a track meet named in her honor that started in 1992. The track coach from the college was one of the people CBC interviewed.
When she won her gold medal she was stunned to look up at the score board and see her name in first place. An official escorted her to the podium and they played the National Anthem which, “was wonderful to hear.” President Truman honored her at the White House. They had a program in Albany after the Olympics. The blacks had to sit in the balcony. She was allowed to sit on the stage but had to exit through a side door. The mayor of Albany refused to shake her hand.
A quick Google search yields results covering her Olympic medal and death from news sites all over the world. The New York Times covered her life and achievements:
At a time when there were few high-profile black athletes beyond Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis, Coachman became a pioneer. She led the way for female African-American Olympic track stars like Wilma Rudolph, Evelyn Ashford, Florence Griffith Joyner and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
ESPN points out that the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were cancelled due to WWII. If not for the war, she might have won even more Olympic medals.
If asked to name the first African-American woman to win an Olympic Gold Medal, I would not have answered correctly. Next time I’ll know about Alice Coachman Davis. I won’t forget her nor will I forget that she was good enough for President Truman but not for the mayor of Albany.