If you don’t know the past, you can’t understand the present and plan properly for the future.” Chaim Potok, Davita’s Harp
African American women have always achieved excellence in sports. Our achievements were not always celebrated. Our race and our gender have often been seen as limitations. Using the sports platform, each effort eradicated the dismissive perceptions to show we can be – – – and we are – – – competitive and intelligent, fierce and fine, strong and strategic. This #BlackHistoryMonth celebrated who you were, who you are and who you are becoming. We encourage you, and following generations, to celebrate each evolution as reaching your goals continues to transform the image of women through sports.
TENNIS: Just days ago, Serena Williams earned her 19th Grand Slam Title in the Australian Open. For tennis lovers, the victory was sweetened by the opportunity to see Serena play against Madison Keys, one of many in a new generation of African American women professional tennis players making their own mark as Serena and Venus Williams refuse to go quietly into the night. Now, it is not as rare to witness two women of color competing on the same court, but no one could forget when Venus won Wimbledon against Serena in 2008 or her championing #equality and parity in pay for all women athletes over the years. Could the legendary Zina Garrison, the first African American woman to reach a Grand Slam Final, have imagined two women of color representing America internationally? In her illustrious career, Zina Garrison earned twenty major doubles championships. Ora Mae Washington, who reigned as the American Tennis Association Champion in tennis singles from 1929-1936 – seven years – and then reclaimed it in 1937, would appreciate their strides. She reigned as the American Tennis Association Champion in tennis singles from 1929-1936 – seven years – and then reclaimed it in 1937, just as Althea Gibson began her streak of ten consecutive ATA titles. Althea Gibson won Wimbledon as an amateur, in 1952.
GOLF: Althea Gibson is not only a role model for breaking racial barriers in tennis, but her transition from tennis to golf proved skills, talent and discipline could not be limited. As a golfer, she became a member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, also a former competitive ice skater and tennis player, became one of the two first women members admitted to the Augusta National Golf Club – the home of the Masters tournament. While there is some talk of the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open being played at Augusta, this year, a newer view of golfing among African American women will champion Cheyenne Woods and Sadena Parks have earned their playing status to compete in the 2015 LPGA tour.
TRACK & FIELD: 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 WWII. Wilma Rudolph, overcoming childhood polio, became the first American woman to win three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics in Rome and the first African American woman to win the James E. Sullivan Award, America’s highest honor in amateur athletics, in 1961. Willye White was the first American woman to compete in five Olympic Games. It is inconceivable to discuss women athletes without mentioning Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Florence Griffith-Joyner who dominated the Olympics. Joyner-Kersee, whom many described as the best all-around female athlete in the world at the time, won two golds at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea and repeated as the Olympic heptathlon champ in 1992. Flo-Jo earned a reputation as “the fastest woman in the world” when she won gold in the 100- and 200-yard runs and anchored the gold-medal-winning U.S. 4×100-meter relay team. In 2012, the world witnessed Carmelita Jeter, the fastest woman alive, anchor the gold medal winning U.S. 4 x 100 meter relay team with Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, and Bianca Knight…at a new world record of 40.82 seconds – yeah, they did that!
BASKETBALL: On the basketball court it’s easy to think about Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson. But how about Lisa Leslie, Chamique Holdsclaw, Swin Cash, Cynthia Cooper, Tina Thompson, Candace Parker or Maya Moore? Sheryl Swoope became the first player to sign the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). Lynette Woodard became the first woman to join the famous Harlem Globetrotters basketball team. Cheryl Miller became one of the most decorated high school and collegiate women’s basketball players in history, lead the U.S. team to gold in the 1984 Olympics. Dr. Sheila Johnson became the first African American woman owner in the WNBA. Yes, African American women are dominating on the court and the boardroom through the platform of sports.
GYMNASTICS: It’s easy to see why Dominique Dawes is known as “Awesome Dawson, vaulting into the record books with a string of awards and titles. She came home with a bronze medal from the 1992 Olympics and two years later became the first gymnast since 1969 to make a clean sweep of everything gold at the U.S. National Gymnastics Championship. he 2012 London Games introduced the world to Gabby Douglas, the first African-American gymnast in Olympic history to become the individual all-around champion. At just 16 years of age, Douglas was voted AP Female Athlete of the Year and featured on a Corn Flakes box. Now Simone Biles is a two time U.S. National All Around Champion, a two time World All Around Champion, a two time World Floor Champion, and the 2014 World Beam Champion —one of the most decorated gymnasts in U.S. history. Selah.
WINTER OLYMPICS: African American women are expanding their presence in nontraditional winter Olympics and setting world standards. Who can forget 2002 when Vonetta Flowers made Olympic history, becoming the first African-American to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics? Her fellow Olympians chose her to carry the U.S.A. flag in the closing ceremonies. In 1986, Debi Thomas became the first black woman to win the U.S. figure skating singles championship; she was also the world champion that year, as well as a bronze medalist at the 1988 Winter Olympics. In 2014, the U.S. Women’s Bobsledding Team was the most diverse team in the sports history. In 2015, Elana Meyers Taylor and pusher Cherelle Garrett became the first women to win the first World Championship title in U.S. history.
To our delight, there is simply insufficient space to contain the swag of Sistas in sports – creating diversity in some sports, expanding legacy in others: Boxing (Queen Underwood, Clarissa Shields, Tiara Brown, Franchon Crews, Tori Nelson, Raquel Miller), Crossfit (Amanda Goodman, Elisabeth Akinwale, Carla Nunes da Costa), Dance (Ebony Williams, Misty Copeland, Ingrid Silva), Fencing (Erin Smart, Nzinga Prescod, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Faizah Muhammad), Football (Kristine Elmore, Adrienne Smith), NASCAR (Nicole Lyons), Rugby (Victoria Folayan, Magali Harvey, Vanessa McGee, Phaidra Knight), Skateboarding (Samarria Brevard), Soccer (Briana Scurry, Maya Hayes, Sydney Leroux, Bry McCarthy), Swimming (Maritza McClendon, Simone Manuel, Lia Neal), Volleyball (Danielle Scott Arruda, Foluke Akinradewo, Kari Miller, Destinee Hooker)…and the transformation continues! #SistaSwag #SwagOn
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