Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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PHOTO ESSAY

African American Olympians

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Alice Coachman

Alice Coachman winning Gold in the High Jump event at the 1948 London Olympic Games (b/w photo) / Private Collection / The Bridgeman Art Library.

Further adding to the racial intrigue of the event, the Berlin Games were the first to feature African American women. Though track and fielders Louise Stokes and Tidye Pickett had qualified for the 1932 Games in Los Angeles, they were ultimately excluded from the final squad. Stokes and Pickett finally made it to Berlin, but Stokes was replaced at the last minute in the 400-meter relay, and Pickett broke her foot during the 80-meter hurdles. In 1948, however, Alice Coachman—also a track and field star—became the first African American woman to earn a medal, winning the gold in the high jump. (World War II halted the Games in 1940 and 1944, but Coachman, part of Cleveland L. Abbott's storied track and field program at Tuskegee Institute, may have very well made her mark on either competition.) Coachman's victory was somewhat anticlimactic: both she and British jumper Dorothy Tyler cleared 5 feet 6 1/7 inches, but because it took Tyler two tries to clear the bar, Coachman was declared the winner. Her win was deeply symbolic, however, and Coachman returned home to a hero's welcome. President Harry S. Truman hosted her at the White House, but the paradox of her victory was underscored after her hometown, Albany, Georgia, threw a segregated parade in her honor. Another black American runner, Audrey Patterson, also medaled at the 1948 Games, winning a bronze in the 200 meters.

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