African American Olympians
Track (men's), 1600 Meter Relay Team, 1908 Olympic Games. Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania.
The first black American to win an Olympic gold was John Baxter Taylor, Jr., who ran in the 1908 Games in London. A member of the 4x400 U.S. Men's Relay team (the rest of whose members were white), Taylor had been a dominating runner at his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. Taylor studied veterinary medicine at UPenn, and arrived at the Olympics only weeks after graduation. Interestingly, the 1908 Olympics marked the first contest that grouped competitors by country of origin, not sponsoring athletic club, which made Taylor technically the first African American to medal for the United States. Remarkably, both of Taylor's parents had been born into slavery, working their way into Philadelphia's black middle class after arriving in the city in the late 1800s. Taylor died from typhoid pneumonia just a few months after his arrival back to Philadelphia, at age 26, a tragic end for a promising athlete and scholar.