Alice Coachman, the Olympic legend who shattered ceilings and the status quo when she became the first black woman to win a gold medal at the games, earning the medal for her 5-foot-6-1/8-inch high jump, has died in her hometown of Albany, Ga., at the age of 90, the New York Times reports.
Coachman had been grappling with health issues in recent months, suffering from a stroke. Her daughter, Evelyn Jones, told the Times that the former track and field star went into cardiac arrest on Monday, following breathing problems.
During the fateful 1948 Olympics Games in London, Coachman became not only the first black woman to secure the gold, but was also the only American woman to medal gold in the track and field section, period.
Despite being honored and wined and dined after her astounding win, with King George VI bestowing her with her medal and being invited on to a British royal yacht and congratulated by then-U.S. President Harry Truman, true to the racial tensions of the time, Coachman still suffered through the harsh cruelties of segregation, the Times reports.
Still, Coachman was cognizant of the impact her medal win had for blacks.
“I made a difference among the blacks, being one of the leaders,” she told the New York Times in 1996, the Times notes. “If I had gone to the games and failed, there wouldn’t be anyone to follow in my footsteps. It encouraged the rest of the women to work harder and fight harder.”
After the 1948 Olympics, Coachman retired, turning her attention to her family and teaching in elementary and high school. However, she also continued to inspire young athletes, founding the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation to help those young athletes and former competitors who were struggling financially, the Times reports.
Read more at the New York Times.