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Fri, 11.09.1923

Alice Coachman, Track and Field Athlete born

Alice Coachman

On this date, we remember the birth of Alice Coachman in 1923. She was a Black athlete.

From Albany, Georgia, the fifth of Fred and Evelyn Coachman's ten children, Coachman grew up in the Jim Crow South. Barred from public sports facilities because of her race, Coachman used whatever materials she could piece together to practice jumping.  Coachman received encouragement from her fifth-grade teacher, Cora Bailey, at Monroe Street Elementary School and from her aunt, Carrie Spry, who defended her niece's interest in sports in the face of parental reservations.  Coping with a society that discouraged women from being involved in sports, Coachman struggled to develop as an athlete.

In 1938, when Coachman enrolled in Madison High School, she immediately joined the track team. The Madison boys' track coach, Harry E. Lash, recognized and nurtured her talent. She quickly attracted the attention of the Tuskegee Institute where she enrolled in the high school program in 1939.  Even before classes started, she competed in and won her first Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) national championship in the high jump.

That day she broke the AAU high school and college women's high jump records while barefoot. She won the AAU outdoor high jump championship for the next nine years, also winning three indoor high jump championships. Coachman excelled in the sprints and basketball as well; competing at Tuskegee from 1940 to 1946.  There she also won national track and field championships in the 50 and 100-meter dashes, the 4 X 100-meter relay, and the running high jump; and as a guard, she led the Tuskegee basketball team to three consecutive conference championships.

At Albany State College in Georgia, Coachman continued high jumping in a personal style that combined straight jumping and the western roll technique.  At the 1948 Olympics in London, her teammate Audrey Patterson earned a bronze medal in the 200-meter sprint to become the first Black woman to win a medal.  In the high jump finals, Coachman leaped 5 feet 6 1/8 inches (1.68 m) on her first try.  Her nearest rival, Britain's Dorothy Tyler, matched Coachman's jump, but only on her second try, making Coachman the only American woman to win a gold medal in that year's Games.

Altogether she won 25 AAU indoor and outdoor titles before retiring in 1948. After getting her degree in home economics with a minor in science, Coachman began teaching physical education. Alice Coachman who was the first Black woman to win an Olympic Gold Medal died on July 14th, 2014 in Alabama.

To become a Professional Athlete


The New Georgia Encyclopedia
Main Library
University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602

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