Jumping High

Alice (Coachman) Davis was born in 1923 in Georgia. She had 9 siblings. Early on, she had an athletic talent that made her special. Her talent was held back due to a lack of access to athletic facilities for African Americans. At the time women were discouraged from participating in athletics. She made her own equipment from discarded materials. She ran barefoot due to a lack of proper shoes.

Her parents were not encouraging, but an aunt and her fifth-grade teacher helped her develop enough athletic skills to become recognized by the Tuskegee Institute. She was offered a work-study “scholarship”, which required her to clean all the athletic facilities and mend uniforms. When she graduated from college, she wanted to become a teacher and track coach.

Alice’s athletic specialty was the high jump. She won 10 national championships from 1939-1948. But high jumping was not her only athletic talent. She won national championships in 3 racing events. During her time at Tuskegee, she participated in three conference championships as a guard on the basketball team.

Unfortunately, Alice was denied the opportunity to showcase her athletic skills on a world stage. The 1940 and 1944 Olympics were canceled during World War II. She was able to compete in the 1948 Olympics. She won the Gold Medal and was the only U.S. woman to be awarded a Gold Medal. She became the first Black woman to win a Gold Medal in any event in the Olympics.

While she was celebrated when she returned home from the Olympics, her name is little known today. If the 1940 and 1944 Olympics had not been canceled, she would probably be known as one of the greatest female athletes of all time.

What Alice did achieve was opening the doors for African-American women athletes to follow. Today our African-American women dominate many of the Olympic sports. Just like Jesse Owens, she became a barrier buster.

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“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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