Coachman, Alice 1923–

views updated May 17 2018

Alice Coachman 1923

High jumper, teacher, coach

At a Glance

Set Records Barefoot

Won in Her Only Olympics

Retired at Peak


Dominating her event as few other women athletes have in the history of track and field, high jumper Alice Coachman overcame the effects of segregation to become a perennial national champion in the U.S. during the 1940s and then finally an Olympic champion in 1948. Her victory set the stage for the rise and dominance of black female Olympic champions form the United States: Wilma Rudolph, Wyomia Tyus, Evelyn Ashford, Florence Griffith Joyner and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, wrote William C. Rhoden about Coachman in a 1995 issue of the New York Times.

Although Coachman quit track and field when she was at her peak, she amassed 25 national titles to go along with her Olympic gold medal during her active years of competing from 1939 to 1948. From there she forged a distinguished career as a teacher and promoter of participation in track and field. One of the keys to her achievements has been an unswerving faith in herself to succeed and the power of God to guide her along the way. Ive always believed that I could do whatever I set my mind to do, she said in Essence in 1984. Ive had that strong will, that oneness of purpose, all my life. I just called upon myself and the Lord to let the best come through.

Coachmans formative years as an athlete were hardly by the book. The fifth oldest child of ten children growing up in Albany, Georgia, she initially wanted to pursue a career as an entertainer because she was a big fan of child star Shirley Temple and the jazz saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. She first developed an interest in high jumping after watching the event at a track meet for boys. Soon afterwards she and her friends began devising all sorts of makeshift setups to jump overfrom strings and ropes to sticks and tied rags. This unorthodox training led her to adopt an unusual jumping style that was neither the traditional western roll nor straight-ahead jumping, but a blend of both. Denied access to public training facilities due to segregation policies, she whipped herself into shape by running barefoot on dirt roads.

Usually vaulting much higher than other girls her age, Coachman would often seek out boys to compete against and typically beat them as well. She received little support for her athletic pursuits from her parents, who thought she should direct herself on a more ladylike

At a Glance

Born November 9, 1923, in Albany, GA; daughter of Fred Coachman and Evelyn (Jackson) Coachman; one of ten children; married N.F. Davis (divorced); remarried to Frank Davis; children: Richmond, Diane. Education: Tuskegee institute; Albany State University, B.A., home economics, 1949.

Career: Won her first Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) high jump competition at age 16, 1939; enrolled in and joined track and field team at Tuskegee Institute high school; trained under coaches Christine Evans Petty and Cleveland Abbott; set high school and juniorcollege age group record in high jump, 1939; won numerous national titles in the 100-meter dash, 50-meter dash, relays, and high jump, 1940s; was named to five All-American track and field teams, 1940s; made All-American team as guard and led college basketball team to three SIAC titles, 1940s; set Olympic and American record in high jump at Olympic Games, London, U.K., 1948; retired from track and field, 1948; signed endorsement contracts after Olympic Games, late 1940s; became physical education teacher and coach, 1949; set up Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation to help down-and-out former athletes.

Awards: Gold medal, high jump, Olympic Games, 1948; named to eight halls of fame, including National Track and Field Hall of Fame, Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, and Albany (Georgia) Sports Hall of Fame; was honored as one of 100 greatest Olympic athletes at Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, GA, 1996.

Addresses: HomeTuskegee, Alabama.

path to adulthood. It was a rough time in my life, she told Essence. It was a time when it wasnt fashionable for women to become athletes, and my life was wrapped up in sports. I was good at three things: running, jumping, and fighting. While admitting that her father was a taskmaster, Coachman also credits him with having instilled in her a tremendous motivation to come out on top in whatever she did. My drive to be a winner was a matter of survival, I think she remembered in a 1996 issue of Womens Sports & Fitness Papa Coachman was very conservative and ruled with an iron hand. We learned to be tough and not to cry for too long, or wed get more. Papa taught us to be strong, and this fed my competitiveness and desire to be the first and the best.

Set Records Barefoot

Coachmans athletic development was spurred early on by her fifth grade teacher, Cora Bailey, who encouraged the young athlete to join a track team when she got the chance. That chance came when she entered Madison High School in 1938, where she competed under coach Harry E. Lash. Her stellar performances under Lash drew the attention of recruiters from Tuskegee Institute, and in 1939 she entered the Institutes high school at the age of sixteen. Before setting foot in a classroom there, she competed for the school in the womens track and field national championship that took place in the summer. Her naivete about competition was revealed during her first Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) meet in 1939 when, after being told that she was supposed to jump when her name was called, she continued taking jump after jump even though she had already won the competition. Her victory in that meet hooked Coachman on track and field for good. Before long she had broken the national high jump record for both high school and junior college age groups, doing so without wearing shoes.

At Tuskegee Institute High School Coachmans skills were honed by womens track coach Christine Evans Petty and the schools famous head coach, Cleveland Abbott. Her athletic career culminated there in her graduation year of 1943, when she won the AAU Nationals in both the high jump and the 50-yard dash. From there she went on to Tuskegee Institute college, pursuing a trade degree in dressmaking that she earned in 1946. By that year she had logged up four national track and field championships in the 50-meter dash, 100-meter dash, 400-meter relay, and high jump. She was also a standout performer at basketball, leading her team to three straight SIAC womens basketball championships as an All-American guard.

Coachman would have been one of the favorites as a high jumper in the Olympic Games that normally would have been held in 1940 and 1944, but was denied the chance because those Games were cancelled due to World War II. She continued to rack up the national honors during the 1940s, first at Tuskegee and then at Albany State College where she resumed her educational and athletic pursuits in 1947. A highlight of her performances during the 1940s was her defeat of major rival Stella Walsh, a Polish-American superstar, in the 100-meter dash in 1945. In national championship meets staged between 1941 and 1948, Coachman took three first places and three seconds in the 100-meter dash, two firsts as part of relay teams, and five firsts in the 50-meter dash to go along with her perennial victories in the high jump. She racked up a dozen national indoor and outdoor high jump titles and was named to five All-American teams in the high jump while complete during her college years. Coachman further distinguished herself by being the only black on the All-American womens track and field and team for five years prior to the 1948 Olympics.

After nearly ten years of active competing, Coachman finally got her opportunity to go for gold in the Olympics held in London, England, in 1948. At the time she was not even considering the Olympics, but quickly jumped at the chance when U.S. Olympic officials invited her to be part of the team. Despite suffering a bad back at the trials for team selection held at the Brown University stadium in Rhode Island, she topped the American record, clearing the 5 4 1/4 bar and easily qualifying for the team.

Won in Her Only Olympics

When Coachman set sail for England with the rest of the team, she had no expectations of receiving any special attention across the Atlantic. She was shocked upon arrival to discover that she was well-known there and had many fans. Many track stars experienced this culture shock upon going abroad, not realizing that track and field was much more popular in other countries than it was in the United States.

After an intense competition with British jumper Dorothy Tyler, in which both jumpers matched each other as the height of the bar continued going upward, Coachman bested her opponent on the first jump of the finals with an American and Olympic record height of 56 1/8. Before leaping to her winning height, she sucked on a lemon because it made her feel lighter, according to Sports Illustrated for Kids. She was the only American woman at the 1948 Olympics to win a gold medal, as well as the first black woman in Games history to finish first. Coachman was stunned by the accolades bestowed upon her for her achievement. I didnt realize how important it was, she told Essence in 1996. I had won so many national and international medals that I really didnt feel anything, to tell the truth. The exciting thing was that the King of England awarded my medal.

More recognition greeted Coachman upon her return to the United States, when legendary jazzman Count Basie threw a party for her after her ship pulled into the NewYork City harbor. She later met President Truman and, once back home in Georgia, was further honored by a motorcade staged just for her that traveled 175 miles between Atlanta and Macon. Later a school and street in her hometown of Albany, Georgia, were named after her. She received many flowers and gift certificates for jewelry, which were made anonymously at the time because of paranoia over segregation. Her welcome-home ceremony in the Albany Municipal Auditorium was also segregated, with whites sitting on one side of the stage and blacks on the other. During segregated times, no one wanted to come out and let their peers know they had given me gifts, she told the New York Times.

Coachman also realized that her performance at the Olympics had made her an important symbol for blacks. I knew I was from the South, and like any other Southern city, you had to do the best you could, she continued in the New York Times. I made a difference among the blacks, being one of the leaders. If I had gone to the Games and failed, there wouldnt be anyone to follow in my footsteps. It encouraged the rest of the women to work harder and fight harder. Coachman was also the first black female athlete to capitalize on her fame by endorsing international products.

Retired at Peak

Content to finish her career on a high note, Coachman stopped competing in track and field after the Olympics despite being only 25 years old at the time and in peak condition. I had accomplished what I wanted to do, she said according to the New York Times. It was time for me to start looking for a husband. That was the climax. I won the gold medal. I proved to my mother, my father, my coach and everybody else that I had gone to the end of my rope. Coachman began teaching high school physical education in Georgia and coaching young athletes, got married, had children, and later taught at South Carolina State College, at Albany State University, and with the Job Corps. In later years Coachman formed the Alice Coachman Foundation to help former Olympic athletes who were having problems in their lives.

As the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games approached, Coachman found herself in the limelight again. She and other famous Olympians Anita DeFrantz, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and Aileen Riggin Soule came to New York in 1995 to initiate The Olympic Woman, an exhibit sponsored by the Avon company that honored a century of memorable achievements by women in the Olympic Games. At the Olympic Games she was among 100 former Olympians paid a special honor. For many years before receiving this attention, Coachman had maintained a low profile regarding her achievements. From the very first gold medal I won in 1939, my mama used to stress being humble, she explained to the New York Times in 1995. Youre no better than anyone else. The people you pass on the ladder will be the same people youll be with when the ladder comes down.

Today Coachmans name resides permanently within the prestigious memberships of eight halls of fame, including the National Track and Field Hall of the Fame, the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, and the Albany Sports Hall of Fame. Although she is for the most part retired, she continues to speak for youth programs in different states.


Christian Science Monitor, July 18, 1996, p. 12.

Ebony, November 1991, p. 44; August 1992, p. 82; July 1996, p. 60.

Essence, July 1984, pp. 59, 63, 124, 128; January 1996, p. 94.

Los Angeles Times, February 10, 1986, Section 3, page 1.

New York Times, April 27, 1995, p. B14; June 23, 1996, Section 6, p. 23.

Sports Illustrated for Kids, June 1997, p. 30.

Wall Street Journal, June 7, 1996, p. Al

Womens Sports & Fitness, July-August 1996, p. 114.


Additional information for this profile was obtained from the Track and Field Hall of Fame Web site on the Internet.

Ed Decker

Coachman, Alice

views updated Jun 11 2018

Alice Coachman

American athlete Alice Coachman (born 1923) became the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal when she competed in track and field events in the 1948 Olympic Games. As such, Coachman became a pioneer in women's sports and has served as a role model for black, female athletes. She established numerous records during her peak competitive years through the late 1930s and 1940s, and she remained active in sports as a coach following her retirement from competition.

On the way to becoming one of the top female track and field athletes of all time, Coachman had to hurdle several substantial obstacles. Not only did she compete against herself, other athletes and already established records, Coachman successfully overcame significant societal barriers.

Even though her race and gender prevented her from utilizing sports training facilities, and her parents opposed her athletic aspirations, Coachman possessed an unquenchable spirit. Resourceful and ambitious, she improvised her own training regimen and equipment, and she navigated a sure path through organized athletics. At the peak of her career, she was the nation's predominant female high jumper. She was at the top of her game in high school, college and Olympic sports, and led the way for other female athletes, in particular future African-American female competitors. In a 1995 article published in The New York Times, William C. Rhoden wrote, "Her victory set the stage for the rise and dominance of black female Olympic champions from the United States: Wilma Rudolph, Wyomia Tyus, Evelyn Ashford, Florence Griffith Joyner and Jackie Joyner-Kersee."

Early Life

Coachman was born on November 9, 1923, in Albany, Georgia, when segregation prevailed in the Southern United States. The daughter of Fred Coachman and Evelyn (Jackson) Coachman, she was the fifth and middle child in a family of ten children.

Coachman's father worked as a plasterer, but the large family was poor, and Coachman had to work at picking crops such as cotton to help make ends meet.

Coachman's early interest gravitated toward the performing arts, and she expressed an ambition to be an entertainer, much like her personal favorites, child star Shirley Temple and jazz saxophonist Coleman Hawkins.

Developed Childhood Interest in Sports

Her true talents would flourish in the area of competitive sports, however. A bundle of childhood energy and a display of an inherent athleticism, Coachman accompanied her great-great-grandmother on walks in the rural Georgia landscape, where she liked to skip, run and jump as hard, fast and high as she could. Later, when she watched a boys' track meet, and realized her favorite activities had been organized as a highly coordinated event, she knew she wanted to pit her abilities against others. She was particularly intrigued by the high jump competition and, afterward, she tested herself on makeshift high-jump crossbars that she created out of any readily available material including ropes, strings, rags and sticks. Her crude and improvisational training regimen led to the development of her trademark, unconventional jumping style that blended a traditional western roll with a head-on approach.

Coachman's parents were less than pleased with her athletic interests, and her father would even beat her whenever he caught her running or playing at her other favorite athletic endeavor, basketball. They simply wanted her to grow up and behave like a lady. Fred Coachman's harsh brand of discipline, however, instilled in his children a toughness and determination. Ironically, by teaching his offspring to be strong, he bolstered Coachman's competitive urge. She continued practicing behind his back, pursuing a somewhat undefined goal of athletic success.

Despite her enthusiasm, at this point in her life, Coachman could not graduate to the more conventional equipment available at public training facilities, due to existing segregation policies. Undaunted, she increased her strength and endurance by running on hard, dirty country roads—a practice she had to perform barefoot, as she couldn't afford athletic shoes.

Encouraged by Educators

Coachman's athletic ambitions became somewhat more concrete when she received crucial support from two important sources: Cora Bailey, her fifth-grade teacher at Monroe Street Elementary School, and her aunt, Carrie Spry. Spry defended Coachman's interest in sports and, more importantly, Bailey encouraged Coachman to continue developing her athletic abilities. She suggested that Coachman join a track team. Soon, Coachman was jumping higher than girls her own age, so she started competing against boys, besting them, too.

Competed in Academic Athletics

Coachman entered Madison High School in 1938 and joined the track team, competing for coach Harry E. Lash, who recognized and nurtured her raw talents. Her strong performances soon attracted the attention of recruiters from the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, a preparatory high school and college for African-American students. She was offered a scholarship and, in 1939, Coachman left Madison and entered Tuskegee, which had a strong women's track program. She trained under women's track and field coach Christine Evans Petty as well as the school's famous head coach Cleveland Abbott, a future member of the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. Before the start of her first school year, the sixteen-year-old Coachman participated in the well-known Tuskegee Relays. Competing barefoot, Coachman broke national high school and collegiate high jump records.

In 1943, the year of her high school graduation, Coachman won the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Nationals in the high jump and the 50-yard dash events. After high school, she attended the Institute's college, where she earned a trade degree in dressmaking in 1946. Along the way, she won four national track and field championships (in the 50-meter dash, 100-meter dash, 400-meter relay, and high jump). In addition, she was named to five All-American track and field teams and was the only African American on each of those teams. She also played basketball while in college. An outstanding player in that sport, too, Coachman earned All-American status as a guard and helped lead her team to three straight Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference women's basketball championships.

For a ten-year period Coachman was the dominant AAU female high-jump competitor. From 1938 to 1948, she won ten-straight AAU outdoor high jump titles, a record that still exists today. She was indoor champion in 1941, 1945, and 1946. Had there been indoor competition from 1938 through 1940 and from 1942 through 1944, she no doubt would have won even more championships.

Entered Olympic Competition

It would seem only natural that an amateur athlete as talented and accomplished as Coachman would graduate to Olympic competition. However, in 1940 and 1944, during her prime competitive years, the Olympic Games were cancelled because of World War II.

Finally, she got her chance in 1948. Although Coachman was not considering Olympic participation, and her peak years had come earlier in the decade, United States Olympic officials invited her to try out for the track and field team. Coachman enthusiastically obliged. At the trials held at Brown University in Rhode Island, she easily qualified when she obliterated the American high jump record by an inch and a half with a five-foot four-inch jump, despite suffering from back spasms. Her record lasted until 1960.

The 1948 Olympics were held in London, and when Coachman boarded the ship with teammates to sail to England, she had never been outside of the United States. At the end of the trans-Atlantic journey, she was greeted by many British fans and was surprised to learn that she was a well-known athlete. At the time, track and field was a very popular sport outside of the United States, and Coachman was a "star."

During the Olympic competition, still suffering from a bad back, Coachman made history when she became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal. (She was also the only American woman to win a medal at the 1948 Games.) On August 7, 1948, and before 83,000 spectators, Coachman achieved a winning mark of 5-feet, 6 1/8 inches, setting a record that endured for eight years. Even though her back spasms almost forced her out of the competition, Coachman made her record-setting jump on her first attempt in the competition finals.

During the course of the competition, Coachman defeated her biggest challenger, British high jumper Dorothy Tyler. England's King George VI personally presented Coachman with her gold medal, a gesture which impressed the young athlete more than winning the medal itself. In a 1996 interview with Essence magazine, she said, "I had won so many national and international medals that I really didn't feel anything, to tell the truth. The exciting thing was that the King of England awarded my medal."

Became a National Figure

Coachman returned to the United States a national hero, a status that gained her an audience with President Harry S. Truman. She also met with former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Right after her ship arrived back home in New York City, renowned bandleader Count Basie held a party for Coachman.

In her hometown of Albany, city officials held an Alice Coachman Day and organized a parade that stretched for 175 miles. Coachman waved to the crowds who cheered her on every step of the journey. Later, in Albany, a street and school were named in her honor (Alice Avenue and Coachman Elementary School).

However, her welcome-home ceremony, held at the Albany Municipal Auditorium, only underscored the racial attitudes then existing in the South. Audiences were segregated, and Coachman was not even allowed to speak in the event held in her honor. Coachman received many flowers and gifts from white individuals, but these were given anonymously, because people were afraid of reactions from other whites.

The following year, Coachman retired from competition, despite the fact that she was only twenty-six years old. But she felt she had accomplished all that she set out to achieve. In addition to her Olympic gold medal, she amassed 31 national track titles. Moreover, Coachman understood that her accomplishments had made her an important figure for other black athletes as well as women. In an interview with The New York Times, she observed, "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."

Became an Educator

After she retired, she continued her formal education and earned a bachelor's degree in home economics from Albany State College in Georgia in 1949. She settled in Tuskegee, Alabama and married N. F. Davis (they later divorced and Coachman remarried, to Frank Davis). They had two children, Richmond and Evelyn, who both followed their mother's footsteps into athletics.

Coachman remained involved in academics and athletics, becoming an elementary and high school physical education teacher and a coach for women's track and basketball teams in several cities in Georgia. She also taught and coached at South Carolina State College and Albany State University. In addition, she worked with the Job Corps as a recreation supervisor.

In 1952, she signed a product endorsement deal with the Coca-Cola Company, becoming the first black female athlete to benefit from such an arrangement. In an ensuing advertising campaign, she was featured on national billboards.

In 1994, she established the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation, a nonprofit organization that not only assists young athletes and but helps retired Olympians adjust to post-competition life.

In 1996, during the Olympic Games, which were held in her home state of Atlanta, Georgia, Coachman was honored as one of the 100 greatest athletes in Olympic history. As a prelude to the international event, in 1995, Coachman, along with other famous female Olympians Anita DeFrantz, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and Aileen Riggin Soule, appeared at an exhibit entitled "The Olympic Woman," which was sponsored by the Avon company to observe 100 years of female Olympic Game achievements.

In addition to those honors, in 1975, Coachman was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. In all, she gained membership in eight halls of fame, several of which included the Albany Sports Hall of Fame, the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, the Black Athletes Hall of Fame, and the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame.


Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 18. Gale Research, 1998.

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"Alice Coachman," National Women's History Project, (December 30, 2005).

"Alice Coachman, New Georgia Encyclopedia, Recreation/IndividualandTeamSports/Track&id;=h-731 (December 28, 2005).

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"Alice Coachman,' United States Olympic Committee, (December 30,2005).

Coachman, Alice

views updated May 08 2018

Alice Coachman


American track and field athlete

Alice Coachman became the first black woman of any nationality to win a gold medal at the Olympics with her victory was in the high jump at the 1948 Summer Games in London. Coachman broke jump records at her high school and college, then became the U.S. national high jump champion before competing in the Olympics. She is also the first African-American woman selected for a U.S. Olympic team.

Coachman was born the middle child to a family of ten children in rural Georgia, near the town of Albany. Her parents were poor, and while she was in elementary school, Coachman had to work at picking cotton and other crops to help her family meet expenses.

Her athleticism was evident, but her father would whip her when he caught her practicing basketball or running. "Back then," she told William C. Rhoden of the New York Times in 1995, "there was the sense that women weren't supposed to be running like that. My father wanted his girls to be dainty, sitting on the front porch."

Coachman, however, continued to practice in secret. Unable to train at public facilities because of segregation laws and unable to afford shoes, Coachman ran barefoot on the dirt roads near her house, practicing jumps over a crossbar made of rags tied together.

When Coachman was in the seventh grade, she appeared at the U.S. track championships, and Tuskegee Institute Cleveland Abbot noticed her. Abbot convinced Coachman's parents to nurture her rare talent. Reluctantly at first, her parents allowed her to compete in the Tuskegee Institute relay in the 1930s, where she broke first high school, and then collegiate records by the time she was 16 years old. She went on to win the national championships in the high jump, and 50 and 100 meter races as well.

Coachman also sang with the school choir, and played in several other sports just for fun, including soccer, field hockey, volleyball and tennis. She also swam to stay in shape.

Coachman's biggest ambition was to compete in the Olympic games in 1940, when she said, many years later, she was at her peak. But World War II forced the cancellation of those games and those of 1944. The war ended in 1945, clearing the way for the 1948 Summer Games in London. In 1946, Coachman became the first black women selected for a U.S. Olympic team, in the first Olympiad since the 1936 Games in Nazi Germany.

Winner at Wembley

Illness almost forced Coachman to sit out the 1948 Olympics, but sheer determination pulled her through the long boat trip to England. Until Coachman competed, the U.S. women runners and jumpers had been losing event after event.

She made her famous jump on August 7, 1948. At age 25, she launched herself into the record books in front of 83,000 spectators, becoming the first woman of African descent to win an Olympic gold medal.

The English had pinned their hopes on high jumper D.J. Tyler. Both Tyler and Coachman hit the same high-jump mark of five feet, 6 1/4 inches, an Olympic record. But Tyler required two attempts to hit that mark, Coachman one, and so Coachman took the gold, which King George VI presented her. Coachman's record lasted until 1956.

Coachman returned home a national celebrity. She was honored in meetings with President Harry Truman and former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and with a parade that snaked 175 miles from Atlanta to Albany, with crowds cheering her in every town in between. She also became the first African-American woman to endorse an international product when the Coca-Cola Company featured her prominently on billboards along the nation's highways. Back in her hometown, meanwhile, Alice Avenue and Coachman Elementary School were named in her honor.

Coachman's Olympic gold medal paved the way for the generations of African-American athletes. "I think I opened the gate for all of them," she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution 's Karen Rosen in 1995. "Whether they think that or not, they should be grateful to someone in the black race who was able to do these things."

After graduating from Albany State College, Coachman worked as an elementary and high school teacher and a track coach. She married and had two children.

In 1994, Coachman founded the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation. This organization helps develop young athletes, and to help former Olympic athletes to establish new careers.

Great Olympic Athlete

Choosing to stay largely out of the spotlight in later years, Coachman, nonetheless, was happy to grant media interviews in advance of the 100th anniversary modern Olympic games in 1996, held in Atlanta. She told reporters then that her mother had taught her to remain humble because, as she told William C. Rhoden of the New York Times in 1995, "The people you pass on the ladder will be the same people you'll be with when the ladder comes down."


1923Born November 9 in Albany, Georgia
1996Founds Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation

Awards and Accomplishments

1939Wins her first Amateur Athletic Union competition
1939-48Wins national high jump championship every year
1946Named to the women's All-America track and field team for 1945
1946Becomes first African-American woman selected for an Olympic team
1948Wins gold medal in the high jump at the Olympics, becoming the first black woman to win Olympic gold
1975Inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame
1996Honored as one of the 100 Greatest Olympic Athletes

She also advised young people with a dream not to let obstacles discourage them. Instead, she advised, listen to that inner voice that won't take "no" for an answer. "Guts and determination," she told Rhoden, "will pull you through."



"Alice Coachman, 1st Black Woman Gold Medalist, To Be Honored." Jet (July 29, 1996): 53.

Cummings, D. L. "An Inspirational Jump Into History." Daily News (February 9, 1997): 75.

Danzig, Allison. "83,000 At Olympics." New York Times (August 8, 1948): S1.

Deramus, Betty. "Living Legends." Essence (February, 1999): 93.

"Georgia's Top 100 Athletes of the 1900s." Atlanta Journal and Constitution (December 26, 1999): 4G.

"Miss Coachman Honored: Tuskegee Woman Gains 3 Places on All-America Track Team." New York Times (January 11, 1946): 24.

Rhoden, William C. "Sports of the Times; Good Things Happening for the One Who Decided to Wait." New York Times (April 27, 1995): B14.

Rosen, Karen. "Olympic Weekly; 343 Days; Georgia's Olympic Legacy." Atlanta Journal and Constitution (August 11, 1995): 6D.

Weiner, Jay. "A Place in History, Not Just a Footnote." Star Tribune (July 29, 1996): 4S.


"Alice Coachman." (January 17, 2003).

"Alice Coachman." USA Track & Field. (January 17, 2003).

Sketch by Michael Belfiore