This Black History Month, we will be showcasing triumphant Black stories across the sports and entertainment landscape. Historically, Black women in sports have been met with discrimination in more ways than one — their gender and race. Still, a great number of Black female athletes have emerged throughout history in a variety of sports. Today, we take a look back at just some of these trailblazing women and celebrate their achievements.
(1) Alice Coachman | High Jump
Alice Coachman is the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal, winning the high jump in the 1948 Olympics in London. Prior to competing on the global stage, Coachman competed in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) from 1939-1948 where she won ten national championships in the high jump. In her prime, Coachman was poised to compete in the 1940 and 1944 Olympic Games, but they were ultimately canceled due to World War II. In the 1948 Summer Olympics, Coachman leaped 1.68m in the high jump finals making her the first Black woman & only American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in athletics that year.
(2) Kim Crabbe + Sandi Gordon | Soccer
Two women that helped break the color barrier for the United States Women’s National Team are Kim Crabbe and Sandi Gordon. In 1986, Crabbe became the first Black woman to be called up to the USWNT camp as a defender. Though Crabbe was not the first Black player to earn a cap with the USWNT, that honor belongs to Sandi Gordon, her presence alone was historic. Crabbe and Gordon’s achievements have made a lasting impact on the game and have ultimately opened the door for other women of color to pursue their USWNT dreams.
(3) Dominique Dawes | Gymnastics
Dominique “Awesome Dawesome” Dawes is notable for being the first Black woman to win an individual Olympic medal and the first Black person to win Olympic gold in gymnastics. Dawes spent 10 years with the U.S. national team and was one of seven to make it on the 1996 “Magnificent Seven” Olympic team. Despite her many successes, Dawes was often criticized due to her body image and faced racial prejudice that had grown within the gymnastics community. Still, she continued to thrive in a traditionally white space and opened the doors for the likes of Gabby Douglas, Simon Biles, and those to come.
(4) Althea Gibson | Tennis
Althea Gibson was one of the first Black athletes to cross the color line of international tennis. In 1956, Gibson made history when she became the first Black person to win the French Open. The following year, she inked her name in the history books again winning Wimbledon and the US Open — the first Black tennis player to win either and then repeat the accomplishments in 1958. In all, Gibson won 11 Grand Slam tournaments and was inducted into both the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. Her legacy has lit the path for Naomi Osaka, the Williams’ sisters and many more who have championed tennis courts. “For me, she was the most important pioneer for tennis,” Serena Williams told WTA. “She was Black, she looked like me and she opened up so many doors.”
(5) Florence Griffith Joyner + Wilma Rudolph | Track & Field
Florence Griffith Joyner set world records in 1988 for both the 100 and 200 meter that still stand to this day. The Los Angeles native made her Olympic debut at the 1984 Olympics winning a silver medal, and four years later, went on to win four medals at the Seoul Olympics Games. She is still considered the fastest woman of all-time. The woman that paved the way for Joyner, however, was Wilma Rudolph. With her successes in the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games, Rudolph became an international sports icon and helped elevate women’s track and field in the United States. In the 1960s, Rudolph was considered the fastest woman in the world and became the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympic games.