The Past is Female Too: Go For the Gold

Here at Sistory we hold this truth to be self-evident: The Future Is Female. We also hold this truth to be less evident yet equally true: The Past Is Female Too. In this series, we’ll introduce you to 5 women from the past who changed the world and never got their due until now. Ideally, they’ll all get statues one day, but for now, we hope you’ll consider honoring them with a t-shirt. (Order here).

We know the past is full of remarkable women. And, since it’s Black History Month, and we’re closing out the Winter Olympics, we wanted to draw your attention to a few women of color who left their mark on the Games – and the world. You probably already know about Flo-Jo, Dominique Dawes and Jackie Joyner Kersee, but here are five women who may have flown under your radar.

Alice_CoachmanThe first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal was Alice Coachman (1923- 2014), from Albany, Georgia. She often gets overlooked because she accomplished this feat at the London 1948 Games, before the Olympics were regularly televised events that the whole world watched. Coachman took home the gold in the high jump – but that home was Albany, in the fully segregated South, where the mayor would not even shake her hand.

5857.6397Willye White (1939 – 2007) also came out of the deeply segregated South to see success in track and field events. After a childhood spent picking cotton for meager pay in the Mississippi Delta, she competed in all five Olympics between 1956 and 1972 – a tremendous time span. She won a silver medal in the long jump as a 16-year-old sophomore in high school, and later in the 4×100-meter relay.

Debi ThomasThe first black athlete to win a medal in any Winter Olympic event was Debi Thomas (1967-) who was born long after Coachman, White and others began to rack up some hardware in the Summer Games. Thomas trained for the Olympics while working on an engineering degree at Stanford, and took home a bronze medal in 1988, nbd. She then became an orthopaedic surgeon. Sadly, her life seems to have changed dramatically for the worse in recent years.

MaritzaCorreiaSwimmingOlympicTeamTrialsGi6D8JQF2eZlIn swimming, a sport all three Sistorians have been significantly involved in (probably because it’s not a ball sport), the first black woman to make the U.S. Olympic Swim Team was Maritza Correia McClendon (1981-) – and she did so in our lifetime, in 2004. McClendon grew up in Puerto Rico, attended high school in Tampa, Florida, and then swam for the Georgia Bulldogs in college before taking a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Games.

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Okay, so it’s not quite history (yet), but here’s a woman to know: Erin Jackson (1993 – ) just competed in these Winter Olympics, the first black female long-track speed skater to do so. She grew up in Ocala, Florida – a long ways from ice, for sure, so she initially took up inline roller skating instead. After just four months of trying speed skating, she qualified for the Olympics (what?!) and this year, she showed her skill in Peyongchang, holding her own in a competitive field. Now, her sights are set on Beijing 2022.

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