March 27 - Today's post provided by Ann Malaspina
Passing It On
When I was researching my book Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper, I contacted Coachman’s son, Richmond Davis, for help in telling her story. He relayed some of my questions to his mother, who was approaching her nineties. With their assistance, I pieced together Coachman’s amazing life—from running barefoot on dirt roads in Albany, Georgia, during the Great Depression and the closed doors of Jim Crow segregation, to her history-making performance at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, when she became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal.
As I was sorting out the details of her winning jump on August 7, 1948 in Wembley Stadium,
Davis called to say that Coachman wanted me to mention her childhood teachers back in . During the 1920s and 1930s, the segregated schools for black children in Albany had few resources except for their teachers. So I made sure to tell about the teacher who went out of her way to take the restless young girl to a track meet, where they watched a boy do the high jump. Soon, Coachman was making high jump bars out of sticks and strings and practicing every chance she got. The teacher had helped her find a passion—and a future Olympic star was already soaring. Albany
I also mentioned the high school coach who recognized Coachman’s high-flying potential before she was even on his team. He invited her to the Tuskegee Relays at Tuskegee Institute (now
Tuskegee University) in . The school founded by Booker T. Washington hosted the annual athletics contest for young black athletes during a time when segregation laws banned competition with white athletes. Coachman didn’t have the proper clothes, so a group of teachers pitched in for tennis shoes, shorts, and white socks, making it possible for her to compete at this important event. Alabama
Coachman worked hard on the track and off at
. She sang in the choir, played on the basketball team, and sewed football uniforms to earn room and board…and she won the high jump, as well as sprints and relays, at the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) national meets every year. For ten years straight, first at Tuskegee Tuskegee and later at Albany State College (now Albany State University), Coachman, aka “The Tuskegee Flash,” was the national high jump champion.
|Alice (far right) and her relay team|
|Alice (2nd from left, top row) and the U.S.women's track and field team on the ship S.S. America bound for England.|
The same message Coachman’s teachers and coaches had given her.
Hey, let’s pass it on!
Ann Malaspina’s next book, Heart on Fire: Susan B. Anthony Votes for President (Albert Whitman & Company), will be out in time for the presidential election in November.
Giveaway: Would you like to win a copy of Touch the Sky and other books featured on this month's Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month blog? If so, leave a comment on any post--each comment will give you an entry to win. A winner will be chosen at random early in April.