black women

She dominated track in the 1940s, and the white mayor refused to shake her hand

By  |  0 Comments

coachmanApril Taylor

Multiple news sources, including the Chicago Tribune, are reporting that Alice Coachman, the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal, has passed away at an Albany hospital following a stroke.  She was 90 years old.  Coachman was born in Albany, Georgia on November 9, 1923 and was the fifth of ten children.

According to Biography.com, Coachman was forced to train by running bare foot on dirt roads and using old equipment due to segregation denying her the opportunity to train for or compete in officially organized sports events.  It was during her time at Madison High School that boys’ track coach Harry E. Lash recognized Coachman’s talent and began training her.

In 1939, at the age of 16, Coachman was awarded a scholarship to Tuskegee Institute.  Before she even began classes at the school, Coachman competed in and won her first Amateur Athletic Union Championship (AAU) in the high jump.  Throughout the early 1940s, Coachman dominated AAU track and field competitions becoming the national champion in the 50 and 100 meter sprints, the 400 meter relay, and the high jump.  Unfortunately, World War II caused her to not be able to compete at the Olympic level in 1940 and 1944 due to the games being cancelled.

In 1948, Coachman was finally able to compete on the Olympic stage, setting a record in the high jump and becoming the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal.  When Coachman returned to the United States, her victory ceremony was segregated, with blacks and whites forced to separate sides of the building.  The town’s white mayor even refused to shake her hand.

During a ceremony at the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta, Coachman was honored as one of the 100 greatest Olympians in history.  There she stated, “I paved the way for all of them.”  She was inducted into nine different hall of fames for her accomplishments including The National Track & Field Hall of Fame and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.

Albany State University’s athletic director Richard Williams stated the following regarding Coachman’s passing, “Although she will be sorely missed, her achievements outside the fields of competition are on par with the great accomplishments within the athletic lines.  We will continue to honor her legacy within the athletic department at Albany State University.”