Alice Coachman, the first African-American woman to win an Olympic gold medal, died this week in her hometown of Albany, Georgia. She was 90 years old.
In 1948 Alice Coachman (a Woman of Note on this site, November 9, 2013) competed in the Olympics and won the high jump at the London Games. Alice believed she reached her peak in 1944 and might have won a gold medal that year, as well as in 1940, had the games not been cancelled because of the Second World War.
Because of her race, and the fact that she lived in the South, Alice was barred from sports facilities because of her color. She improvised practice facilities, running along dirt roads and across fields. She also participated in other sports. At Tuskegee University, she was on a basketball team that won three straight conference titles.
When she returned from the London Olympics she met President Harry Truman at the White House followed by a 175-mile motorcade through Georgia to celebrate her victory. At the official ceremony in Albany, Georgia, however, the audience in the auditorium was segregated by race, the mayor did not shake her hand, and she was required to leave by a side door. Even her 25 national athletics championships, including 10 consecutive high jump titles could not overcome the color of her skin.
She was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1975 and the US Olympic Hall of Fame in 2004. When her athletic career ended, she remembered her own hardships and created the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation, which provides financial assistance to needy young and retired athletes.