Jones, Barbara (1937—)

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Jones, Barbara (1937—)

African-American sprinter and track star. Born Barbara Pearl Jones in Chicago, Illinois, on March 26, 1937; married Marcellus Slater; children: two daughters.

Was national indoor champion in the 100-yard dash (1954 and 1955); was national outdoor AAU champion in the 100 meters (1953 and 1954); won gold medals in the Olympics in the 4x100 meters (1952 and 1960); was a member of the Tennessee Tigerbelles, a team which produced some of the fastest female runners in the world.

Barbara Jones was born in 1937 and grew up on the South Side of Chicago. At a young age, she demonstrated her abilities on the track. After competing successfully at the national level, she was one of the youngest athletes to qualify for the Olympics at only 15. Jones won a gold medal in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki where she ran on a 4x100-meter relay team with Mae Faggs , Janet Moreau , and Catherine Hardy . The Americans defeated German, British, Soviet, Australian, and Dutch teams with a time of 45.9 seconds. Jones was one of the youngest athletes to win a gold medal. From that time until she was 19, Barbara Jones was a national AAU champion. After graduating from St. Elizabeth High School in 1955, she attended Marquette University. Her freshman year she tried out for the 1956 Olympic games in Melbourne, certain she would make the cut. In the trials, however, Jones could not even reach third place. Three Tennessee State University Tigerbelles beat her in the 100 and 200 meters. Bitterly disappointed, Jones had missed a berth on the 1956 Olympic team.

"The thing for you to do," advised Faggs, "is to come on down to Tennessee State and learn what training is all about." Jones wasted no time in writing Coach Ed Temple who got her a track scholarship at Tennessee. Becoming a Tigerbelle was a new experience for Jones. In Tennessee, she was just another athlete instead of a superstar. Teammates like Margaret Matthews and Wilma Rudolph often warned Jones that they would give her a sound thrashing on the track and they delivered. Temple had the Tigerbelles practice year round, running cross country over open fields and up and down the jagged hills of Tennessee. Temple's goal was to build stamina, as he believed that well-trained athletes did not become injured as easily. They won meets as well.

Jones worked hard as a Tigerbelle, realizing she was in a superior program. From 1956 to 1988, 40 Tigerbelles won places on U.S. Olympic teams. In international competition, Tigerbelles won 13 gold medals, 6 silver medals, and 4 bronze. Temple, however, stressed academic as well as athletic achievement. Of these 40 Olympic team members, 39 received their undergraduate degrees, 28 got master's degrees, and 6 earned their Ph.Ds. Jones worked hard, both in the classroom and on the track.

Tigerbelle training paid off. In 1957, she was AAU 100-yard dash national champion, though Margaret Matthews took this title from her the following year. In 1958, Jones was the 50-meter national AAU champion and shared a 5.7 world record with Isabel Daniels in the 50-yard dash. Jones was the first American woman ever to win a race against the Soviets, winning a 100-meter race in 1958, a feat she repeated in 1959.

Coach Temple emphasized two skills at Tennessee—leaning into the tape at the finish and passing the baton. On more than one occasion, the 4x100-meter relay has been lost because a team member dropped the baton. Endless practice built skills, and, when the 1960 Olympics came around, Barbara Jones was a different athlete from the young woman who failed to qualify for the 1956 Olympics. She traveled to Rome with Martha B. Hudson , Wilma Rudolph, and Lucinda Williams . The following day, the Americans defeated the West Germans, Poles, Soviets, and Italians with a time of 44.5 seconds in the 4x100-meter relay, and Jones had won her second Olympic gold medal.

Over her eight-year career, Barbara Jones won 335 medals and 56 trophies. After graduating from Tennessee, she married a fellow student, Marcellus Slater. The couple returned to Chicago where they had two daughters, and Jones became a physical education teacher.


Davis, Michael D. Black American Women in Olympic Track and Field. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1992.

Page, James A. Black Olympian Medalists. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1991.

Wallechinsky, David. The Complete Book of the Olympics. NY: Viking, 1988.

Karin Loewen Haag , freelance writer, Athens, Georgia