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Alice Coachman, First Black Woman to Win a Gold Medal, Dies

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Alice Coachman
Coachman competes at a track meeting in Iowa in 1948.
Photo Credit: AP Images

Alice Coachman, the first Black woman to win an Olympic medal in 1948, died Monday in Albany Georgia. She was 90.

According to The New York Times, Coachman's daughter says that she had been treated at a nursing home for a recent stroke and went into cardiac arrest after being transferred to a hospital with breathing difficulties.

Coachman competed in the 1948 London Games and took home the gold medal for the high jump. She received the honor from King George VI and was congratulated by President Harry S. Truman at the White House. Celebratory recognition aside, Coachman returned home to a segregated south; one that she was all too familiar with. During a ceremony to celebrate her win back home, the town's white mayor refused to shake her hand and she was asked to leave the building by a side entrance.

A stealth athlete, Coachman got her start doing high jumps using ropes and sticks as she was not allowed to train at ahtletic fields with white people. Despite the hardships, she made her way to the 1948 Olympics after extensive training at Tuskegee's high school and college teams and then at Albany State College (now Albany State University). Her track and field career ended with the 1948 Olympics, as she went on to raise her children and became an elementary and high school teacher. She later created the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation to help young athletes in financial need.

The track star was inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. There is also an Alice Coachman Elementary School in Albany.

Having paved the way for women like Wilma Rudolph, Florence Griffith Joyner and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Coachman understood her impact; “I made a difference among the blacks, being one of the leaders,” she explained to The New York Times in 1996. “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."

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