She was born the fifth child of ten, in Albany, Georgia, 1923.
As she grew, running fast, jumping high, they were as natural as the rising sun–yet according to some, the color of her skin was not. You see, being black in the segregated south, barred her from organized sports, as well as the use of the training facilities.
Her parents suggested more lady-like pursuits–perhaps something that might offer a chance at success. A teacher preached the opposite, encouraging the pursuit of her dream; and an aunt helped her stand her ground.
And stand her ground, she did. She trained as she could–running barefoot through fields, sprinting down dirt lanes, jumping over ropes or rags pulled tight with sticks. She pushed herself to practice hours upon hours to improve her time, improve her jumps–dedication that led to a scholarship to Tuskegee Preparatory School, at the age of sixteen. While attending Tuskegee, she competed in the Women’s National Championships–breaking both the collegiate and National high jump records. She did it all barefoot.
From Tuskegee to Albany State College, all in all she held 25 national titles, from the 50 yard dash to basketball.
Not even a back injury could keep her from qualifying for the 1948 Olympic Games in London. Like always, she didn’t workout the day before competition, much to the dismay of her coach. You’ll end up just like the others, at the bottom. You’ll never make it . . .
Not only did she make it, but Alice Coachman became the first African American to win a gold medal–the only female American to win a medal of any kind in London 1948.
Though she retired from sports at the age of twenty-five, she continued to help other athletes–teaching and encouraging young athletes, directing and inspiring Olympic veterans. In her lifetime she’s been named to five all-American teams, inducted into eight Halls of Fame, and named one of the 100 greatest ever Olympic athletes.
Not bad for someone deemed as not having a chance.
As Alice Coachman proves, it is possible to soar past barriers, straight to our dreams–but it takes work, dedication, and faith . . . maybe even a lucky lemon or two . . .
Martha Ward Plowden, Olympic Black Women (Gretna, La.: Pelican, 1996).
Nellie Gordon Roulhac, Jumping over the Moon: A Biography of Alice Coachman Davis (Philadelphia: privately printed, 1993).