A Woman to Know: Alice Coachman

If I had gone to the games and failed, there wouldn't be anyone to follow in my footsteps. — Alice Coachman

(image via Library of Congress)


The year: 1948.

The place: Wembley Stadium in London, with 80,000-plus pairs of eyes all watching the Summer Olympics High Jump competition.

The heroine: Alice Coachman, a 24-year-old athlete from Albany, Ga. The first black woman to ever win gold at the Olympics.

But Alice's story didn't end with her gold medal win.

When she returned to America, ticker-tape parades, balls and ceremonies applauded her accomplishments in London. But when the celebration came to her hometown, whites and blacks still had to sit on opposite sides of the auditorium where she would be honored. The white mayor clapped for her, but he wouldn't shake her hand.

She'd traveled the globe, won every competition, aced her sport and received accolades from world leaders — but back in Albany, she was still black. To the white mayor, that's all she was.

"I had won," she said later. "That was up to them, whether they accepted it or not."

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