'Hero' Alice Coachman Davis, First Black Woman US Olympic Gold Medalist, Dies at 90

( [email protected] ) Jul 16, 2014 01:29 AM EDT
The first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal, Alice Coachman Davis, has died in the US at the age of 90.
Alice Coachman Davis Dies In Her Hometown of Albany Georgia Aged 90.

Alice Coachman Davis, who made history as the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal, died early Monday in South Georgia. 

Davis died from natural causes at the age of 90, confirmed her daughter, Evelyn Jones, the BBC reports. 

In 1948, Davis was the only woman to win an Olympic gold medal, which she earned by reaching an American and Olympic record of 1.68 meters at the high jump at the games in London. Davis was inducted to the USA Track and Field Hall of fame in 1975, and was inducted to the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2004.

'Going into the USOC Hall of Fame is as good as it gets,' she told The Associated Press in a 2004 interview. 'It's like Cooperstown, Springfield and Canton,' she said, referring to the sites of other prominent Halls of Fame.

Davis was also the first black woman to ever win an Olympic gold medal-an accomplishment the black community calls "pivotal."

"She is one of the great heroes of black culture," said Jennifer Smyrna, president of the Black History Museum in Chattanooga, TN.

"Davis was a key figure in the unification of blacks and whites, and a wonderful example of courage, determination and faith during a time of extreme racism. Her success marks a pivotal moment in history."

The young Olympian keenly felt the segregation in the athletic world, as she was often prohibited from using public sports facilities because of her race.

According to Olympic historian David Wallechinsky, Davis honored with a 175-mile motorcade in Georgia when she returned from London. But even after her success, black and white audiences were segregated at her official ceremony in Albany.

'My dad did not want me to travel to Tuskegee and then up north to the Nationals,' Davis told the AP. 'He felt it was too dangerous. Life was very different for African-Americans at that time. But I came back and showed him my medal and talked about all the things I saw. He and my mom were very proud of me.'

Despite the racism that pervaded the country at the time, Davis felt an extreme sense of loyalty to the U.S. In an interview held in 2004, the Olympian revealed she would have liked to continue to compete for the United States-- but the Olympics weren't held in 1940 or 1944 because of World War II.

'I know I would have won in 1944, at least,' said Davis. 'I was starting to peak then. It really feels good when Old Glory is raised and the National Anthem is played.'

During Davis' impressive career, she won 34 national titles and was inducted into nine halls of fame, including the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, and Albany Sports Hall of Fame. In 1999, she also became the first black woman to endorse an international product when Coca-Cola signed her as a spokesperson in 1952. In 1995, Davis was also honored as one of the 100 greatest Olympic athletes at 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.