George Poage becomes the 1st black athlete to win a medal at the Summer Olympics in St. Louis.P oage won Bronze medals for the 200m and 400m hurdles.
George Coleman Poage was born in Hannibal, Missouri, his family moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1884. While at La Crosse High School Poage excelled as both a student and an athlete.
Poage was the top athlete at the school and in 1899, was the class salutatorian, becoming the school’s 1st African-American graduate.
COLLEGE YEARS: The following year he became a freshman at the University of Wisconsin. After competing with the freshman track squad in 1900, he joined the varsity track and field team during his sophomore year. Poage was the 1st black athlete to run for UW, specializing in the short sprints and hurdles. A consistent point winner for his team, he quickly became well respected. When the track coach was called out of town in 1902, he placed Poage in charge of the team in his absence.
Poage graduated in 1903 with a degree in History. His senior thesis was titled “An Investigation into the Economic Condition of the Negro in the State of Georgia During the Period of 1860-1900.”
He returned to the University for the 1903-04 school year to take graduate classes in History, supported by the UW athletic department, which hired him as an athletic trainer for the football team.
In June 1904, he became the 1st African-American individual Big Ten track champion in conference history, placing first in both the 440-yard dash and the 220-yard hurdles.
1904 OLYMPICS: The Milwaukee Athletic Club sponsored Poage to compete in the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri. Many prominent African-American leaders called for a boycott of the games to protest racial segregation of the events in St. Louis. An integrated audience was not allowed at either the Olympics or the World’s Fair as the organizers had built segregated facilities for the spectators.
Poage chose to compete in 4 events and became the 1st black athlete to medal.
LEGACY: ?Poage was elected to the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998.
?In 2013, the La Crosse City Council renamed Hood Park to George C. Poage Park in Poage’s honor.