Happy Birth To A Sports Pioneer
When you talk about a true sports pioneer, the conversation must include Alice Coachman Davis (November 1923–July 2014). Although Coachman is perhaps not as well-known as other African American sports folk heroes, such as Jesse Owens or Wilma Rudolph, her place in sports history deserves attention.
Her impressive career - despite the upbringing she received as a child in Georgia where most women did not receive encouragement to ‘be phyiscal’ - included:
- Being the first African American woman to ever win Olympic gold. She achieved this in the 1948 Olympic Games, smashing records and seizing the gold for the high jump.
- She was not deterred by her financially strained upbringing, by racism, or by the attitudes of those who believed women had no place in track and field competitions.
- She played sports with the boys in her neighborhood, practiced jumping using primitive means, and waited for her opportunity.
- It was at a meet at the Tuskegee Institute that Davis was discovered. From that point, she would go on to win national titles for the high jump for ten consecutive years.
- The Olympics were a natural next stop for someone so talented. Unfortunately, World War II prevented the 1940 and 1940 Olympics from being held. It is believed by many that Davis would have dominated at these events. As it is, she was only able to compete in the 1948 games, where she won her single gold medal. It was presented to her by King George VI.
- Although she made the front page of her Albany, GA newspaper, and although a parade was held in her honor, the Mayor nonetheless refused to shake her hand.
- Coachman went on to become a teacher and a coach. At age 80, she was brought into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.