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Adam R. Hornbuckle

Audrey Mae Patterson was the only child of Lionel Patterson, a porter and chauffeur, and Josephine Nero Patterson, a cook.

After graduating from Danneel Elementary School, Patterson entered Gilbert Academy, a Methodist-affiliated school in New Orleans devoted to the education of African American children. Participating on the track and field team, she compiled an undefeated record in the 100-, 220-, and 440-yard dashes. In 1944Jesse Owens, who had won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games, spoke to the students, encouraging them to pursue their dreams and remain optimistic about the future despite racial injustice. Patterson later said that she believed Owens spoke directly to her, motivating her to compete in the Olympics.

After graduating from Gilbert in 1945 Patterson enrolled at Wiley College in Marshall Texas An historically black college affiliated with the Methodist church and known for high academic standards Wiley had made significant ...