Edited by Gerald Boerner



JerryPhoto_thumb2_thumb_thumb_thumb_[2]Today we look at the second set of six out of eighteen African American women athletes who have had major impact on several sports during the 20th century. Many of these individuals are still alive and continue to work for the improvement of the status and experience of Blacks Women Athletes, both in the United States and abroad. Many of these athletes have helped to fight for the rights of the Black people in this country from slavery to freedom. These athletes have provided us with first-class entertainment on the tennis court, track and field venues (especially at the Olympic Games), and in other stadiums and arenas across the country. Much of these feats have been accomplished during the post-World War II decades. These women continue to fight for the rich heritage of the African American Women and provide role models to the young Black American females.

This is the second installment of a three part series that celebrates lives and achievements of these selected eighteen women athletes. It is, by necessity, a long document, but it details the lives and representative work of these very talented individuals.

Let us celebrate the lives and feats of these women who used their athletic talents for the cause of the African American people and the Civil Rights movement. We now will proceed to examine the lives and works of these African American Women in more detail GLB

Jesse Owens, Berlin ’36…  (1:12)


These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2012 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved

[ 4781 Words ]


Quotations Related to Milestones in History — Athletes:

[ http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/athletes.html ]


“Among the world elite there are a handful of athletes who are physically capable of winning it.”
— Maurice Greene

“As athletes, we’re used to reacting quickly. Here, it’s ‘come, stop, come, stop.’ There’s a lot of downtime. That’s the toughest part of the day.”
— Michael Jordan

“Athletes know kids look up to them, and it’s important for athletes to be responsible.”
— Deion Sanders

“Athletes who take to the classroom naturally or are encouraged to focus on grades should be able to do well in the classroom. I believe the reason you go to college is to get your degree. It’s not a minor league or an audition for the pros.”
— Rebecca Lobo

“But as much as I am personally proud for winning five championships, I’m equally proud just being part of a women’s division that has gotten so much better with all these great athletes here.”
— Trish Stratus

“Getting to know athletes from all over the planet is a big part of the Olympic experience.”
— Mary Lou Retton

“Everything about the Olympics was first class, and women were treated as athletes and equals.”
— Elizabeth Robinson Schwartz

“For centuries, New York has served as the gateway for millions of people from all over the world in search of the American dream. It only makes sense that it would now serve as a gateway for the world’s greatest athletes.”
— Hillary Clinton


Unsung Heroes of Black History: Black Women Athletes, Part 2…


Olympic_logo_1952During the last half century, Africans have taken their place on the stage of world-class athletics. Key events in this world-wide competition include the Grand Slam events in tennis, the Summer and Winter Olympic Games held every four years, and other world-class trials. We are looking today at the athletes that made their marks on this world stage.

The four Major tennis tournaments, also called the Slams, are the most important tennis events of the year in terms of world tour ranking points, tradition, prize-money awarded, strength and size of player field, and public attention. They are the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open. Currently, both the Australian Open and the US Open are played on hard courts, while the French Open is played on clay, and Wimbledon is played on grass. The "Grand Slam" is the winning of all four Major tournaments in a single calendar year; however, it has also been used for many years now to refer to any of the major tournaments, (e.g., American tennis player Pete Sampras, who won 14 Major titles in his career, is often said to have won 14 "Grand Slams"—even though he did not achieve a true Grand Slam by winning all four Majors in a single year).

The Open Era of tennis began in 1968 when the Major tournaments agreed to allow professional players to compete. Wimbledon, the oldest of the Majors, was founded in 1877, followed by the US Open in 1881, the French Open in 1891, and the Australian Open in 1905. Beginning in 1905 and continuing to the present day, all four majors have been played yearly, with the exception of the two World Wars and 1986 for the Australian Open. The Australian Open is the 1st Major of the year (January), followed by the French Open (May–June), Wimbledon (June–July), and US Open (August–September).

A player who wins all four major tournaments, as a single or as part of a doubles team, in the same calendar year is said to have achieved the "Grand Slam". If the player wins all four consecutively, but not in the same calendar year, it is called a "Non-Calendar Year Grand Slam". Winning all four at some point in a career, even if not consecutively, is referred to as a "Career Grand Slam". Winning the four Majors and a gold medal in tennis at the Summer Olympics has been called a "Golden Slam" since 1988, when Steffi Graf became the only person to accomplish that feat in a single calendar year. Winning all four plus gold at some point in a career, even if not consecutively, is referred to as a "Career Golden Slam". Winning the four Majors in all three disciplines a player is eligible for – singles, doubles, and mixed doubles – is considered winning a "boxed set" of Grand Slam titles.

Editor: Our focus here is upon the unsung heroes of this African American experience as they have contributed to the Arts and Literature over the last two hundred years or so. Today, we focus upon those Black Women who have made significant contributions as athletes — Olympics Games, Tennis, and Basketball. Some were amateurs and others were professionals, but they all set examples for us all. Typically, their contributions have been ignored in favor of the contributions of their male counterparts. But the dozen plus women that we feature here have made significant contributions to the body of American Athletic scene. For that contribution, we salute them. (Part 2 of 3)


History Channel’s Unsung Heroes:
Black Women Athletes (Part 2)

Wilma Rudolph (1940–1994)

Wilma Rudolph crossing the finish line to win one of her three gold medals at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Italy. Rudolph was the first American woman to win three track-and-field gold medals in a single Olympics. (Photo Credit: Corbis)


wilma-rudolphWilma Glodean Rudolph (June 23, 1940 – November 12, 1994) was an American athlete. Rudolph was considered the fastest woman in the world in the 1960s and competed in two Olympic Games, in 1956 and in 1960.

In the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic Games. A track and field champion, she elevated women’s track to a major presence in the United States. She is also regarded as a civil rights and women’s rights pioneer. Along with other 1960 Olympic athletes such as Cassius Clay, who later became Muhammad Ali, Rudolph became an international star due to the first international television coverage of the Olympics that year.

The powerful sprinter emerged from the 1960 Rome Olympics as "The Tornado," the fastest woman on earth. The Italians nicknamed her La Gazzella Negra ("The Black Gazelle"); to the French she was La Perle Noire ("The Black Pearl"). She is one of the most famous Tennessee State University Tigerbelles, the name of the TSU women’s track and field program.

Wilma Rudolph was born prematurely at 4.5 lbs., the 20th of 22 other brothers and sisters, and caught infantile paralysis (caused by the polio virus) as a very young child. She recovered, but wore a brace on her left leg and foot which had become twisted as a result. By the time she was twelve years old, she had also survived scarlet fever, whooping cough, chickenpox, and measles. Her family drove her regularly from Clarksville, Tennessee, to Nashville, Tennessee for treatments to straighten her twisted leg. She also had to have a leg brace on for three years (6 to 9).

In 1952, 12-year-old Rudolph finally achieved her dream of shedding her handicap and becoming like other children. Her older sister was on a basketball team, and Wilma vowed to follow in her footsteps. While in high school, Rudolph was on the basketball team when she was spotted by Tennessee State track and field coach Edward S. Temple. Being discovered by Temple was a major break for a young athlete. The day he saw the tenth grader for the first time, he knew he had found a natural athlete. Rudolph had already gained some track experience on Burt High School’s track team two years before, mostly as a way to keep busy between basketball seasons.

At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome she won three Olympic titles: the 100 m, 200 m and the 4 x 100 m relay. As the temperature climbed toward 110 degrees, 80,000 spectators jammed the Stadio Olimpico. Rudolph ran the 100-meter dash in an impressive 11 seconds flat. However the time was not credited as a world record, because it was wind-aided. She also won the 200-meter dash in 23.2 seconds, a new Olympic record. After these wins, she was being hailed throughout the world as "the fastest woman in history". Finally, on September 11, 1960, she combined with Tennessee State teammates Martha Hudson, Lucinda Williams and Barbara Jones to win the 400-meter relay in 44.5 seconds, setting a world record. Rudolph had a special, personal reason to hope for victory—to pay tribute to Jesse Owens, the celebrated American athlete who had been her inspiration, also the star of the 1936 Summer Olympics, held in Berlin, Germany. Rudolph sprinted in the Drake Relays in Des Moines, IA and won first place.

Alice Coachman (1923– )

Alice Coachman was the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Coachman won the high jump at the 1948 London Olympics. (Photo Credit: Corbis)


alice-coachmanAlice Marie Coachman (born November 9, 1923 in Albany, Georgia) is an American former athlete. She specialized in high jump, and was the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal. In 2002 she was designated a Women’s History Month Honoree by the National Women’s History Project.

Coachman dominated the AAU outdoor high jump championship from 1939 through 1948, but was unable to compete in the Olympic Games as they were cancelled in 1940 and 1944 because of World War II.

In the high jump finals of the 1948 Summer Olympics, Coachman leaped 1.68 m (5 ft 6⅛ in) on her first try. Her nearest rival, Great Britain’s Dorothy Tyler, matched Coachman’s jump, but only on her second try. Coachman was the only American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in athletics in 1948.

Coachman also excelled in the indoor and outdoor 50 m dash and the outdoor 100 m dash. Representing Tuskegee Institute, Coachman also ran on the national champion 4 x 100-meter relay team in 1941 and 1942. Coachman is an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, inducted in 1998 during the sorority’s international conference.

1952 Olympics Gold Medal Relay Team

The winners of the Women’s 400 meter relay celebrate their victory at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. Left to right: Catherine Hardy of Georgia; Barbara Jones, of Chicago; Mae Faggs of Bayside, NY; and Janet Moreau of Pawtucket, RI. (Photo Credit: Corbis)

1952-olympic-relay-teamThe 1952 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XV Olympiad, were an international multi-sport event held in Helsinki, Finland in 1952. Helsinki had been earlier given the 1940 Summer Olympics, which were cancelled due to World War II. It is famous for being the Olympic Games at which the most number of world records were broken, before the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Heriwentha ("Mae") Faggs Starr (April 10, 1932 in Bayside, New York – January 27, 2000 in Cincinnati) was an American athlete who mainly competed in the sprint events. She graduated from Bayside High School, and then went to Tennessee State University to run under Hall of Fame coach Ed Temple, one of the first U.S. women to receive an athletic scholarship.

She competed for the United States in the 1952 Summer Olympics held in Helsinki, Finland where she won the gold medal in the 4 x 100 meter relay with her teammates Barbara Jones, Janet Moreau and Catherine Hardy. Four years later she went to the Melbourne 1956 Games as the sole returnee from the 1952 Games relay team, and teamed up with Margaret Matthews, Wilma Rudolph and Isabelle Daniels but failed to retain the title, only managing to come away with the bronze medal.

Barbara Pearl Jones (later Slater, born 26 March 1937) is a retired American athlete, who competed in the 1952 Summer Olympics and in the 1960 Summer Olympics.

Jones competed for the United States at the 1952 Summer Olympics held in Helsinki, Finland, where she won the gold medal in the 4 x 100 m relay with her teammates Mae Faggs, Janet Moreau and Catherine Hardy. At the age of 15 years 123 days, Jones of the Chicago CYO is the youngest female of any nation to have won an Olympic gold medal in track & field.

She missed the following Olympics, but returned in the 1960 Summer Olympics held in Rome, Italy in the 4 x 100 meters, where she again won the gold medal with her teammates Martha Hudson, Lucinda Williams and Olympic 100 and 200 meters champion Wilma Rudolph. She attended Tennessee State University.

Janet Teresa Moreau (born October 26, 1927) is an American athlete who competed mainly in the 100 meters.

She competed for the United States in the 1952 Summer Olympics held in Helsinki, Finland in the 4 x 100 meters where she won the Gold medal with her teammates Mae Faggs, Barbara Jones and Catherine Hardy.

Catherine Hardy Lavender (née Catherine Hardy) (born February 8, 1930) is an African-American athlete who competed mainly in the 100 meters. She won an Olympic gold medal in the 4 x 100 metres relay at the 1952 Olympic Summer Games in Helsinki, Finland. Later Hardy married, had children, and a 30-year teaching career in Atlanta schools.

At the U.S. Olympic tryouts in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Hardy set an American record in the 200-meter run, thus securing a position on the 1952 U.S. Olympic Women’s Track Team. She was the only representative of the state of Georgia that year in the Olympics, held in Helsinki, Finland. There, she anchored the 4×100 meter relay. She won the gold medal with her teammates Mae Faggs, Barbara Jones and Janet Moreau.

This particular race was an upset, because the Australians and their star, Marjorie Jackson, whom they called "Jet", were heavily favored to win. A poor baton transfer, however, killed the Australians’ chances.

Originally, Janet Moreau was to serve as the anchor for the team, but when the coach realized that Hardy was the fastest runner on the team, the order was changed. Photographs and video of the race show that the race was quite close, but the US runner Hardy was the one who broke the tape at the finish, edging out Germany, who took the silver medal, and Great Britain, who won the bronze medal.

Noteworthy is the fact that Hardy’s time in the 100 meters she ran was faster than the winning time in the 100-meter race at this Olympics. Though Hardy had been slated to compete in that event as well, a poor showing in one of the heats killed her chances at advancement. Despite this fact, Hardy and her teammates set a new world record, and brought home the gold in this event.

Upon returning to the States, Hardy was greeted with a ticker tape parade in her hometown, but further recognition was rather muted.

Florence "FloJo" Griffith Joyner (1959–1998)

Florence Griffith Joyner, nicknamed “FloJo”, won three gold medals at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. FloJo set world records in the 100 meter and 200 meter distances that have stood since 1988. (Photo Credit: Corbis)

florence-joynerFlorence Griffith-Joyner (born Florence Delorez Griffith), also known as Flo-Jo (December 21, 1959 – September 21, 1998) was an American track and field athlete. She is considered the "fastest woman of all time" based on the fact that she still holds the world record for both the 100 metres and 200 metres, both set in 1988 and never seriously challenged. She died of epilepsy in 1998 at the age of 38.

Griffith was born in Los Angeles, California and raised in the Jordan Downs public housing complex. During the late 1980s she became a popular figure in international track and field because of her record-setting performances and flashy personal style. She was the wife of triple jumper Al Joyner and the sister-in-law of heptathlete and long jumper Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

Griffith finished fourth in the 200 m at the inaugural World Championship in 1983. The following year she gained much more attention, though mostly because of her extremely long and colorful fingernails rather than her silver medal in the Los Angeles Olympics 200 m. In 1985, she won the final of the Grand Prix with 11.00 seconds. After these Olympics she spent less time running, and married the 1984 Olympic triple jump champion Al Joyner in 1987.

Returning at the 1987 World Championships, she finished again second in the 200 m. She stunned the world when — known as a 200m runner — she ran a 100m World Record of 10.49 in the quarter-finals of the US Olympic Trials. Several sources indicate that this time was very likely wind-assisted. Although at the time of the race the wind meter at the event measured 0.0, indicating no wind, observers noted evidence of significant wind, and wind speeds up to 7 meters/second were noted at other times during the event. Since 1997 the International Athletics Annual of the Association of Track and Field Statisticians has listed this performance as "probably strongly wind assisted, but recognized as a world record." Griffith-Joyner’s coach later stated that he believed the 10.49 run had been aided by wind. Outside this race, Griffith-Joyner’s fastest time without wind assistance was 10.61 seconds, which would give her the world record anyway.

By now known to the world as "Flo-Jo", Griffith-Joyner was the big favorite for the titles in the sprint events at the 1988 Summer Olympics. In the 100 m final, she ran a wind-assisted 10.54, beating her nearest rival Evelyn Ashford by 0.3 seconds. In the 200 m quarter-final, she set a world record and then broke that record again winning the final by 0.4 seconds with a time of 21.34. She also ran in the 4 x 100 m and 4 x 400 m relay teams. She won a gold medal in the former event, and a silver in the latter (which is still the second fastest time in history behind the winner of that race), her first international 4 x 400 m relay. Her effort in the 100 m was ranked 98th in British TV Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Sporting Moments in 2002. She was the 1988 recipient of the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States. Griffith-Joyner retired from competitive sports shortly afterwards.

In 1996, Griffith-Joyner appeared on the Charlie Rose show and announced her comeback to competitive athletics, only this time in the 400m. Her rationale was she had already set world marks in both the 100 and 200 meter events, with the 400 world record being her goal. Griffith-Joyner trained steadily leading up to the June US Olympic trials, however tendinitis in her right leg ended her hopes of becoming a triple world record holder. Al Joyner was to also attempt a comeback, but he too was unable to compete due to an injured quadriceps muscle.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee (1962– )

Jackie Joyner-Kersee won Olympic gold medals in the heptathalon in 1988 and 1992 making her the first ever athlete back to back Olympic heptathalons. (Photo Credit: Corbis)


jackie-joyner-kerseeJacqueline "Jackie" Joyner-Kersee (born March 3, 1962) is a retired American athlete, ranked among the all-time greatest athletes in the women’s heptathlon as well as in the women’s long jump. She won three gold, one silver, and two bronze Olympic medals, in those four different events. Sports Illustrated for Women magazine voted Joyner-Kersee the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th century, just ahead of Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

After retiring as a competitive athlete, Joyner-Kersee has been involved with many philanthropic efforts and has joined the Board of Directors for USA Track & Field (USATF), the national governing body of the sport.

Joyner-Kersee competed in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and won the silver medal in the heptathlon.

Joyner-Kersee was the first woman to score over 7,000 points in a heptathlon event (during the 1986 Goodwill Games). In 1986, she received the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States.

In the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea, Joyner-Kersee earned gold medals in both the heptathlon and the long jump. At the 1988 Games in Seoul, she set the still-standing heptathlon world record of 7,291 points. The silver and bronze medalists were Sabine John and Anke Vater-Behmer, both of whom were representing East Germany. Five days later, Joyner won her second gold medal, leaping to an Olympic record of 7.40 m (24 ft 3 in) in the long jump.

In the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, Joyner-Kersee earned her second Olympic gold medal in the heptathlon. She also won the bronze medal in the long jump which was won by her friend Heike Drechsler of Germany.

As of August 2008, Joyner-Kersee holds the world record in heptathlon along with six all time best results and her long jump record of 7.49 m is second on the long jump all time list. In addition to heptathlon and long jump, she was a world class athlete in 100 m hurdles and 200 meters being as of June 2008 in top 60 all time in those events.

Sports Illustrated voted her the greatest female athlete of the 20th century.

Joyner-Kersee consistently has maintained that she has competed throughout her career without performance-enhancing drugs.

Gail Devers (1966– )

[Not on History Channel List] A young talent in the 100 M and 100 M Hurdles who won the Gold Medal in the 100 M but placed fifth in the 100 M Hurdles after hitting the last hurdle.


Devers2Yolanda Gail Devers (born November 19, 1966) is a retired three-time Olympic champion in track and field for the US Olympic Team. Devers was born in Seattle, Washington, and grew up near National City, California and graduated from Sweetwater High School in 1984. Sweetwater’s football and track stadium is named Gail Devers Stadium.

A young talent in the 100 m and 100 m hurdles, Devers was in training for the 1988 Summer Olympics, started experiencing health problems, suffering from among others migraine and vision loss. She qualified for the Olympics 100 m hurdles, in which she was eliminated in the semi-finals, but her health continued to deteriorate even further.

In 1990, she was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, and underwent radioactive iodine treatment followed by thyroid hormone replacement therapy. Amazingly, Devers recovered quickly and resumed training. At the 1991 World Championships, she won a silver medal in the 100 m hurdles.

At the 1992 Summer Olympics, Devers starred. She qualified for the final of the 100 m, which ended in an exciting finish, with five women finishing close (within 0.06 seconds). The photo finish showed Devers had narrowly beaten Jamaican Juliet Cuthbert. In the final of the 100 m hurdles, Devers’ lead event, she seemed to be running towards a second gold medal, when she hit the final hurdle and stumbled over the finish line in fifth place, leaving Voula Patoulidou from Greece as the upset winner.

In 1993, Devers won the 100 m World Championship title after – again – a photo finish win over Merlene Ottey in an apparent dead heat, and the 100 m hurdles title. She retained her hurdles title in 1995.

The 100 m final at the 1996 Summer Olympics was an almost exact repeat of the World Championships final three years before. Ottey and Devers again finished in the same time and did not know who had won the race. Again, both were awarded the same time, but Devers was judged to have finished first and became the first woman to retain the Olympic 100 m title since Wyomia Tyus. In the final of her favorite event, Devers again failed, as she finished fourth and outside of the medals. With the 4 x 100 m relay team, Devers won her third Olympic medal.

After these Olympics, Devers concentrated on the hurdles event, winning the World Championship again in 1999, but she had to forfeit for the semi-finals at the 2000 Summer Olympics.

Marion Jones (1975– )

[Not on History Channel List] A former world champion track and field athlete who forfeited all medals and prizes dating back to September 2000 after her October 2007 admission that she took performance-enhancing drugs as far back as the 2000 Summer Olympics. (Note: This athlete had a very promising career which was sacrificed due to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. She was in the class with those Olympians presented above, but suffered from the temptation of using artificial means to boost her performance in this very demanding competition among world-class athletes. For this, we honor her with reservations.)


M_Jones_cropMarion Lois Jones (born October 12, 1975), also known as Marion Jones-Thompson, is a former world champion track and field athlete, and a former professional basketball player for Tulsa Shock in the WNBA. She won five medals at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, but forfeited all medals and prizes dating back to September 2000 after her October 2007 admission that she took performance-enhancing drugs as far back as the 2000 Summer Olympics, and that she had lied about it to a grand jury investigating performance-enhancer creations by Victor Conte and the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (a.k.a. BALCO).

At the time of her admission and subsequent guilty plea, Marion Jones was one of the most famous people to be linked to the BALCO investigation. 41 days later, Major League Baseball player Barry Bonds was indicted on one count of obstruction of justice and four counts of perjury linked to his own testimony before the BALCO grand jury in December 2003.


The paragraphs in italics above were taken from the slide show published by the History Channel (see References). Click HERE to access that slideshow. The photographs of the women are courtesy of Corbis and Getty Images.



The Wilma Rudolph Story: Child Walks Through Polio, Then Runs into Olympic History… (11:05)



Please take time to further explore more about African Americans, Wilma Rudolph, Black History Month, Black Women Athletes, Alice Coachman, Debi Thomas, 1952 Olympic Games, U.S. Relay Team, Catherine Hardy, Barbara Jones, Mae Faggs, Janet Moreau, Florence Griffith Joyner, "FloJo", Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Gail Devers, Gail Devers, and Performance-Enhancing Drugs by accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below…





Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Wikipedia: African Americans

Wikipedia: Wilma Rudolph…

Wikipedia: 1952 Summer Olympics…

Wikipedia: Mae Faggs…

Wikipedia: Barbara Jones…

Wikipedia: Janet Moreau…

Wikipedia: Catherine Hardy…

Wikipedia: Florence Griffith-Joyner (FloJo)…

Wikipedia: Jackie Joyner-Kersee…

Wikipedia: Gail Devers…

Wikipedia: Marion Jones…

Women Talk Sports: Black History Month – Honoring Female Athletes…

CBS Interactive: 10 Greatest Women Athletes…

History Channel: Black Women in Art and Literature: Black Women Athletes

Brainy Quote: Athletes Quotes…


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