Alice Coachman Davis, The First Black Woman To Win Gold In The Olympics, Passes Away At Age 90

July 15, 2014  |  

In 1948, Alice Coachman Davis won the gold medal in the high jump and was not only the lone American woman to take home a gold medal at the London games, but she was also the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal. According to the AP and her daughter, Evelyn Jones, the trailblazer passed away on Monday at the age of 90 in South Georgia. According to the New York Times, Davis had been at a nursing home after having a stroke a few months ago and went into cardiac arrest on Monday after having a hard time breathing. 

During those games in London, Davis set a record at the time for clearing 5.51 feet. Her accomplishments at the Games of the XIV Olympiad were so great that when she returned to her hometown of Albany, Georgia, she was honored with a ceremony. However, the audience welcoming her back home was, of course, segregated. 

As a young woman, Davis won 25 national track and field championships while attending Tuskegee University. And though she did great things, her family was very fearful of letting her go out and show the world her talents because of the racial tensions. They just wanted her to be safe while she just wanted to show what she could do. 

“My dad did not want me to travel to Tuskegee and then up north to the Nationals,” Davis told the AP in an interview in 2004. “He felt it was too dangerous. Life was very different for African-Americans at that time. But I came back and showed him my medal and talked about all the things I saw. He and my mom were very proud of me.”

Davis retired from track and field at the age of 25 and was later inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of fame (1975), as well as the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame (2004). There is also a school named in her honor in her hometown. Davis would go on to teach and her story would fade a little from the spotlight, but she would do all that she could as the years passed to share her journey with others. In 1996, she finally had the chance to tell her tale when a book about her life, Jumping Over The Moon, was printed. She wanted to let people know of the adversity they can overcome to do great things. As she told the New York Times in 1996:

“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.”

 

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