Remembering the First Black Olympians to Win Gold Medals

With nearly 100 African-American athletes representing the U.S. at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, a gold medal winner won’t be a surprise.

Claiming Olympic gold isn’t new in the Black community; African Americans have been winning gold medals since 1908.

The AFRO chronicles the first Black Olympian gold medal winners here as a way remembering African-American athletic prowess on the world stage.

John Baxter Taylor – born in Washington, D.C., Taylor became the first African American ever to win a gold medal. During the 1908 Olympics, he was a member of the record-breaking U.S. national 1,600-meter relay team. The 1908 Olympics games were held in London, the same site of the 2012 games.

Taylor graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, and was a member of the Sigma Pi Phi, the first Black fraternity, also known as Boule. He died just five months after capturing gold in 1908, suffering from typhoid fever; he was only 26 years old. At the moment, the New York Times called him, “the world’s greatest negro runner.”

Alice Coachman – a native of Albany, Ga., Coachman became the first African-American woman to win an individual gold medal during the 1948 Summer Olympics. Coincidentally, Coachman’s gold medal was also won in London as she captured the high jump event by leaping 1.68 meters, or 5.5 feet.

Coachman was also a four-time National track champion for the Tuskegee Institute, excelling in the 50-meter and 100-meter dash. She is an honorary member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, inducted during the AKA’s international conference in 1998.

DeHart Hubbard – born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Hubbard became the first African-American male to win an individual gold medal during the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris by winning the long jump event. Hubbard was the “king of the long jump” during his era, setting a world record 7.89 meters (25.8 feet) at Chicago in June 1925; he also matched the world record in the 100-yard dash with a time of 9.6 seconds in a Cincinnati-located event in 1926.

Hubbard studied at the University of Michigan and was a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. He died in 1976 and was inducted into the University of Michigan Hall of Fame in 1979.

Don Barksdale – born in Oakland, Calif., Barksdale was the first African-American male to play for the U.S. national men’s basketball team that went on to win gold during the 1948 Olympics in London. Considered a pioneer for Blacks in basketball, Barksdale was also the first of his race to be named a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) All-American and the first Black to play in the National Basketball Association All-Star game.

Barksdale studied at UCLA and joined the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He was signed into the American Basketball Association (ABA) by the Baltimore Bullets in 1951 as a 28-year-old rookie, and was later traded to the Boston Celtics; he was the fifth Black man ever to play for a National Basketball Association (NBA) team. He died in 1993 at the age of 69.

Jesse Owens – born in Oakville, Ala., became the first man of any race to win four gold medals in track and field events during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Owens captured gold in the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, the long jump and the 4×100-meter relay. The only other athlete to pull off such a feat is Carl Lewis, who won gold in the same events during the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Owens studied at Ohio State University, which later named its track and field stadium after him.

Dominique Dawes – born in Silver Spring, Md., Dawes is the first Black person of any nationality or gender to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics, and the first African-American woman to win any medal in an individual gymnastics event. She won gold as a member of the U.S. gymnastics team in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and won a bronze medal in the individual floor event. She later graduated with a bachelor’s degree from University of Maryland, College Park, in 2002.

Anthony Ervin – a native of Hollywood, Calif., Ervin became the first African-American male to win a gold medal in a swimming event during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Ervin captured his one and only gold medal in the 50-meter race. He also won a silver medal as a member of the 4×100 meter relay team.

According to reports, Ervin is of Jewish descent on his mother’s side and of African-American and Native American descent on his father’s side. He attended the University of California-Berkeley.

Shani Davis – born in Chicago, Ill., Davis is the first Black man of any nation to win a gold medal during a Winter Olympics Games. He won gold in the 1000 meter speed skating event during the 2006 Winter games in Turin; he successfully defended his title during the 2012 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the first man of any race to win back-to-back gold in the 1,000 meter event.

Davis has 51 career individual victories on the ISU Speed Skating World Cup circuit, second most all-time for males. He also set several world records, including three that still stand today.

Vonetta Flowers – a native of Birmingham, Ala., Flowers became the first African-American to win a gold medal in a Winter Olympics Games; she won the two-woman bobsled race during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Flowers was a track star at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and made several attempts at qualifying for the Summer Olympics before shifting her focus to bobsled racing at the age of 26. Flowers is also the only person of any race to come from Alabama and win a Winter Olympics medal; she was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.

Michael Johnson – born in Dallas, Texas, Johnson is the only male sprinter in Olympics history to win both the 200-meter dash and 400-meter dash events at the same Olympics; he accomplished this feat during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

A graduate of Baylor University, Johnson is the only man to win back-to-back gold medals in the 400 meter dash; he also currently holds the world record for the fastest time in the 300-meter dash.

Robert “Bullet Bob” Hayes – born in Jacksonville, Fla., Hayes won a gold medal in the 100-meter dash during the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. He became the first person to cover 100 meters in less than 10 seconds.

After the ’64 Olympics, Hayes was drafted by the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys. In November, 1966, he set a league record against the Washington Redskins that would stand for nearly 50 years, catching nine passes for 246 yards. Hayes is also the only person to win both an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl ring. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009. Hayes attended Florida A&M University. 

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Remembering the First Black Olympians to Win Gold Medals


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