Alice Coachman, First Black Woman To Win An Olympic Gold Medal


As the gold medal winner in the high jump at the 1948 Olympics in London, Alice Coachman came home to a celebratory welcome, including a parade in her home town of Albany, Ga.

But Coachman was not permitted to speak at the ceremony. And the mayor did not shake her hand.

The town’s problem with Coachman had nothing to do with her athletic achievement or her character. It was the color of her skin.alice 1

Coachman, who was the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal, died Monday in Albany, said her son, Richmond Davis, who said she had been undergoing treatment for a stroke. She was believed to be 90.

Coachman, whose married name was Davis, was not surprised at the behavior of city officials during the era of segregation in the South. She was all too familiar with unjust treatment.

alice 2As a girl, she was not permitted to use public sports facilities, forcing her to improvise. She used rope or tied rags together to substitute for proper crossbars when she practiced high-jumping. And instead of running on a track, Coachman ran on rural trails, usually barefoot because her family could not afford sports shoes.

Still, when Albany officials snubbed her after her victory, it hurt, especially in light of the fact that she was received her medal in London from King George VI.

“To come back home to your own country, your own state and your own city, and you can’t get a handshake from the mayor?” she said in an interview several years ago for the National Visionary Leadership Project. “Wasn’t a good feeling.”

Some whites in the city were supportive, but not publicly. At a party at her godfather’s house, she received many gifts and flowers from well wishers but many of the packages arrived with no cards or names attached. Coachman said those came from white people.

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  • Maurice December 19, 2019 - 9:32 am

    I really would like that for you to send me that inform

  • Rachael Irving January 17, 2020 - 8:27 am

    Thanks for the story. Dr. Cynthia Thompson who died last year was the first black woman to set an Olympic record in the 200m at the London , 1948 games. She inspired me to become the first black professor of biochemistry and sport science in Jamaica. Congrats to your mom. Her story is etched in my female black history.

    • Peggy March 10, 2021 - 8:10 pm

      Wonderful aceivements by these women. It is good that times have changed and such great athletes are acknowledged and celebrated openly

  • Beulah Okonkwo January 18, 2020 - 10:00 pm

    Those were the days! These are the days when Black folk stop looking to whites for recognition of our greatest. They didn’t give it to us and they can’t take it away!

  • Doreen williams March 6, 2021 - 3:39 pm

    She received her medal from a king. Can’t top that..! The mayor and the rest of the racists just looked small minded and petty in comparison

  • Schroeder Cherry March 8, 2021 - 10:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Spreading her story keeps the success alive. Who needs a mayor’s handshake when the king has acknowledged you?