Alice Coachman may not be a name you know, but exactly 71 years ago today she became the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal.
It was the 1948 Olympics in London. A 25-year-old Coachman was competing in the high jump finals. According to Biography.com, “She leapt to a record-breaking height of 5 feet, 6 and 1/8 inches in the high jump finals.” Coachman was recovering from a back injury but still managed to soar. This jump from Coachman made her the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Her win was watched by over 82,000 spectators.
The Georgia native was awarded the medal by King George VI, father of Queen Elizabeth II. Coachman said about the win, “I didn’t know I’d won. I was on my way to receive the medal and I saw my name on the board. And, of course, I glanced over into the stands where my coach was, and she was clapping her hands.”
She could not compete in the 1940 and 1944 Olympic Games due to cancellation because of World War II.
Nonetheless, after making history at the Olympics, she retired from athletic competitions and completed her degree at Albany State University in Albany, Georgia. However, Coachman made history again. In 1952, she became a spokesperson for the Coca-Cola Company, making her the first African American to earn an endorsement deal. By 1979, she was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, and during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, she was honored as one of the 100 greatest Olympians.
In a 1996 interview with The New York Times, Coachman said, “I made a difference among the Blacks, being one of the leaders If I had gone to the games and failed, there wouldn’t be anyone to follow in my footsteps. It encouraged the rest of the women to work harder and fight harder.”
Coachman passed away on on July 14, 2014 at the age of 90 in Georgia.
Kudos to this heroine who paved the way for so many Olympians. A true legend.