Olympic gold medalist and Tuskegee and Albany State University alumnae Alice Coachman Davis passed away on Monday, July 14, 2014. She was 90 years old.
Coachman became the first African American woman from any country to win an Olympic gold medal when she competed at the 1948 Olympics in London. Born November 9, 1923 in Albany, Georgia to Evelyn and Fred Coachman, Coachman was the fifth of ten children.
She first developed an interest in high jumping after watching the event at a track meet for boys. She and her friends began devising all sorts of makeshift setups to jump over, from strings and ropes to sticks and tied rags. This unorthodox training led her to adopt an unusual jumping style.
Denied access to public training facilities due to segregation policies, she whipped herself into shape by running barefoot on dirt roads. Usually vaulting much higher than other girls her age, Coachman would often seek out boys to compete against and typically beat them as well. She received little support for her athletic pursuits from her parents, who thought she should direct herself on a more ladylike path.
Although Coachman’s parents did not support her interest in athletics, she was encouraged by Cora Bailey, her fifth grade teacher at Monroe Street Elementary School, and her aunt, Carrie Spry, to develop her talents. After demonstrating her skills on the track at Madison High School, Tuskegee Institute offered the sixteen-year-old Coachman a scholarship to attend its high school program. She competed on and against all-black teams throughout the segregated South.
In 1943, Coachman entered the Tuskegee Institute college division to study dressmaking. She played basketball and competed on the track and field team, where she won four national championships for events in sprinting and high jump. Coachman completed her degree from Tuskegee in 1946. She continued her education at Albany State College, where she received a B.A. in Home Economics in 1949, and later taught at South Carolina State College, Albany State University, and Job Corps.
During World War II, the Olympic committee cancelled the 1940 and 1944 games. Coachman’s first Olympic opportunity came in 1948 in London at the age of 24. On August 8, 1948, Coachman leaped 5’6 1/8 inches to set a new Olympic record and win a gold medal for the high jump.
During her career, Coachman won 34 national titles. She was inducted into nine halls of fame, including the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, and Albany Sports Hall of Fame. In 1999, Coachman was one of six members inducted into Albany State University’s first Sports Hall of Fame class. She became the first black woman to endorse an international product when Coca-Cola signed her as a spokesperson in 1952. Coachman was also honored as one of the 100 greatest Olympic athletes at 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.
Coachman married Frank A. Davis and was the mother of two children. In 1994, she founded the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation to provide assistance to young athletes and former Olympic competitors.