Profile: Alice Coachman – the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal

Rounding up women’s month, we profile the great Olympian, a woman of many firsts – first Black Olympic medal champion, first black woman to endorse a national product, first professional black female athlete; whose victory was celebrated in London, but not in the segregated American south.

Alice Coachman, the first black woman to ever win an Olympic gold medal won gold at the 1948 Olympic Games in the high jump category, leaping her way to a Gold medal on the first shot. Coachman set a record on her first jump of the high jump finals at the 1948 Games in London, according to biography.com. Her spirit helped her reach Olympic greatness despite being denied basic training tools. Because Coachman was brought up in the segregated South, she was denied any formal training and wasn’t allowed to participate in organized events, according to biography.com. Instead, she ran barefoot in fields and on dirt roads and trained on any equipment she could get her hands on.

After her win, King George VI awarded the newly-minted Olympic champion with her medal and she was extended an invitation to board a British Royal Yacht, according to the New York Times. She was also thrown a party by Count Basie, congratulated by President Harry S. Truman at the White House and arrived to her hometown in Albany, Georgia, via a motorcade that started in Atlanta.

Upon her arrival in still segregated America at the time, Blacks and Whites sat separately in the auditorium in Albany where she was honored, and she was forced to leave through a side door after the ceremony; the mayor refused to shake her hand, though he did attend, according to the Times.

She was the first black woman to endorse a national product, which, technically, makes her the first professional black female athlete. Coca Cola put her on their payroll in 1952 and she earned $500, according to NBC Sports. She was inducted into two halls of fame: Coachman was welcomed into both the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975 and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 2004, according to BBC News.

She was named a Women’s History Month honoree in 2002 by the National Women’s History Project, according to the organization’s website

Coachman passed away on July 14, 2014 in Albany, Georgia, at the age of 90, according to the New York Times.

 

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