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Black History Month Celebration of Black Female Athletes

Florence Delorez Griffith Joyner (born Florence Delorez Griffith; December 21, 1959 – September 21, 1998), also known as Flo-Jo, was an American track and field athlete. She is the fastest woman of all time; the world records she set in 1988 for both the 100 m and 200 m still stand. Flo-jo was not only recognized because of her speed on the race track but also for her stylist clothing, beautiful long decorated finger-nails and beauty. She brought class and glamour to the Olympics.

Jacqueline Joyner-Kersee is an American retired track and field athlete, ranked among the all-time greatest athletes in the heptathlon as well as long jump. She won three gold, one silver, and two bronze Olympic medals, in those two events at four different Olympic Games.

First Black Women in the Olympics

One of the first women’s track teams in the United States began at the all-black Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in 1929. Three years later, Louise Stokes and Tidye Pickett qualified for the 1932 Olympics in track and field but were not allowed to participate in the event (held in Los Angeles) because of their race. In Berlin in 1936, Stokes and Pickett became the first African American women to represent their country in the Olympics.

Alice Coachman, a star track and field athlete at Tuskegee Institute, became the first black woman to win Olympic gold, setting records with her high jump at the 1948 Olympics in London. Coachman, who dominated her sport, would likely have won more medals if the 1940 and 1944 Olympics had not been canceled due to World War II.

Ora Mae Washington was the first prominent African American athlete to dominate two sports, tennis and basketball. Ora Washington a pioneer as a black female athlete, tennis player. Ora Washington, won her first American Tennis Association singles title in 1929. She held the title for the next seven years, until 1936, then regained it once again in 1937. Washington’s record of seven consecutive ATA titles would stand until 1947.In her first five years, Washington won numerous titles, and she held the ATA national title from 1929 to 1936. Washington continued to play up until the late 1940s, where she added 12 doubles titles, winning her last doubles title at 46 years old, and three mixed doubles championships to her already impressive trophy case.

Tennis remained racially segregated, however, and Helen Willis Moody, considered the best white tennis player during that era, refused to play Washington. Her achievements were noticed by President Franklin Roosevelt who steered New Deal funds toward the building of tennis courts in urban areas.

While most athletes would be satisfied dominating one sport, Washington added basketball to her athletic resume. She was the starting center for the Germantown Hornets, where she helped the team post a 22-1 record and win the female national title in 1930. She joined the Philadelphia Tribunes in 1932, then one of the most dominant women’s sports teams in basketball history and remained with them for ten years. The Tribunes were sponsored by the city’s oldest black newspaper, the Philadelphia Tribune. Although the Tribunes opponents were mostly black teams, occasionally they were matched against white teams. Washington led the Tribunes in scoring, and had a brief stint as the head coach. While she was with the team they won ten straight Women’s Colored Basketball World Championships. At one point, Washington was called “the best Colored player in the world.” Article written by: Anthony Washington of the Black Past, August 17, 2017.

In 1950, Gibson became the first black player (male or female) to compete in a U.S. Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) event, the national championship at Forest Hills, in Queens, New York. A year later, she repeated that historic first at Wimbledon. Gibson won her first Grand Slam singles title at the French Open in 1956, and then won back-to-back titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 1957 and ’58. The Associated Press voted Gibson the Female Athlete of the Year in both 1957 and ’58; she was the first African American woman to hold that honor.

After retiring from amateur tennis in 1958, Gibson launched another pioneering effort in 1964, when she became the first black women to join the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).

Wilma Rudolph If Gibson was an inspiration in the tennis world, Wilma Rudolph proved equally so in the realm of track and field. Stricken by polio as a young girl, Rudolph regained her strength and went on to win three gold medals (in the 100- and 200-meter dash and 400-meter relay) at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. She was the first American woman to accomplish that feat, and in 1961 she became the first black woman to win the James E. Sullivan Award, America’s highest honor in amateur athletics. (She was also the AP’s female athlete of the year in 1960 and ’61.) Rudolph’s compatriot Willye White was the first American woman to compete in five Olympic Games (1956, 1960, 1964, 1968 and 1972); she won silver in the long jump in 1956 and in the 4×100-meter relay in 1964.

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