The First African Americans to Win Olympic Medals

Alice Coachman

Alice Coachman performs in the high jump competition at the in 1939 National Women's Track and Field meet.
Alice Coachman performs in the high jump competition at the in 1939 National Women’s Track and Field meet where she broke the national high jump record. At the 1948 Summer Olympic Games in London, Coachman became the first Black woman to win gold.Getty Images

Born in Albany, Georgia in 1923, Alice Coachman was one of 10 children and a sports prodigy from an early age. As an African American, she could neither practice in local training facilities like gymnasiums or tracks, nor compete in local competitions, due to Jim Crow segregation laws in the South. Instead, she tied rags, ropes and sticks together in a field near her home and practiced her high jump for hours on end.

In 1939, as a 16-year-old high schooler, Coachman broke the national high jump record. She remained American high jump champion for 10 consecutive years. But when World War II broke out, the 1940 and 1944 Games were canceled. When the Olympics resumed in London in 1948, Coachman jumped 5 feet and 6 ⅛ inches, setting a new Olympic record. At age 25, Coachman became the world’s first Black woman to win Olympic gold.

Per: History

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