Sport and the Color Line: Black Athletes and Race Relations in Twentieth-Century America

By Patrick B. Miller; David K. Wiggins | Go to book overview
Save to active project



Black Women in Track and Field

Susan Cahn

AFTER WORLD WAR II forced the cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 Olympic Games, Olympic competition resumed in 1948, hosted by London. Although England remained in a state of grim disrepair, the performance of three female track-and-field athletes shone through the bleakness of the postwar European setting. Francina "Fanny" Blankers-Koen, competing for the Netherlands, won an astounding four gold medals with victories in the one hundred-and two hundred-meter sprints, the eighty-meter hurdles, and four hundred-meter relay. The Dutch athlete was heralded not only for her medals but for achieving her success as an adult married woman-a full-time housewife and the mother of two children. Among Europeans her fame was rivaled only by the French athlete Micheline Ostermeyer, winner of gold medals in the shot put and discus and a bronze in the high jump. Ostermeyer, in addition to her athletic excellence, was a concert pianist whose musical ability and middle-class background marked her as a "respectable" woman in a sport many perceived as unwomanly. 1 The third athlete was Alice Coachman, a high jumper from Albany, Georgia. As a track and basketball star for Tuskegee Institute, Coachman had established a reputation as the premier black woman athlete of the 1940s. Her single gold medal in the high jump could not match the totals of Blankers-Koen or Ostermeyer. Nevertheless, it was historically significant, both as the only individual track-and-field medal won by U.S. women and, more important, as the first medal ever received by a woman of African descent.

The superlative performances of these three Olympic champions earned them only momentary glory in the United States. Their names quickly faded from public view, overshadowed by male Olympians and athletes like Barbara Ann Scott, the Canadian Olympic figure-skating champion, whose sport earned far more attention and approval than women's track and field. Track athletics, like basketball, had excited enormous public interest as a women's sport in the 1920s and early 1930s. But even more so than basketball, track had fallen victim to negative media coverage and organized efforts to eliminate it from school and international competition.

By midcentury the sport had a reputation as a "masculine" endeavor unsuited to feminine athletes. Few American women participated, and those who did endured caricatures as amazons and muscle molls. In this climate, despite the temporary enthusiasm inspired


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Sport and the Color Line: Black Athletes and Race Relations in Twentieth-Century America


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 382

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?