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Pamela Lee Gray

wood carver, sculptor, and folk artist, was born Jesse James Aaron in Lake City, Florida, to descendants of slaves and Seminole Indians. Aaron attended school for less than one year before he was sent to work as a contract laborer for local farms. Trained as a baker when he was twenty-one years old, he found he enjoyed the creativity it required. He opened several bakeries, worked as a cook at Gainesville's Hotel Thomas from 1933 to 1937, and then cooked for a variety of fraternities and hospitals in Florida. Aaron also worked as a cook aboard the Seaboard Air Line Railroad during this time.

Aaron married Leeanna Jenkins, and when the family settled in northwest Gainesville in the 1930s they opened a nursery. From this point until 1968 when Aaron became a folk artist at the age of eighty one it is difficult to determine what is ...


Hasaan A. Kirkland

football player and painter, was born Ernest Eugene Barnes Jr. in Durham, North Carolina, the son of Ernest Barnes Sr., a tobacco worker, and Fannie Mae Geer, who worked for a local legal official. On occasion Barnes talked with Mr. Fuller, his mother's employer, and from him learned about culture, art, and classical music.

Before the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 it was uncommon for African Americans in North Carolina to have access to museums or other sources of information about ancient or world cultures Segregation and racial inequalities in schools and other public institutions deprived most back children of avenues for artistic pursuits Despite such constraints Barnes s mother exposed her son to as much culture and art as she could he studied dance and horn and percussion instruments as well as the visual arts By the time ...


Gregory Travis Bond

athlete, dentist, and politician, was born in Topeka, Kansas, to Gary W. Cable, a teacher and postal worker, and Mary Ellen Montgomery Cable, a public school administrator and civil rights activist. In 1894 the family moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, where Cable attended public school and graduated from integrated Shortridge High School in 1908. He moved on to the exclusive Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire for the next school year and enrolled at Harvard University in 1909.

Cable had not participated in organized athletics in high school, but he tried out for the freshman track team at Harvard and caught the eye of Coach Pat Quinn. With Quinn's guidance, Cable developed rapidly. In the annual Harvard-Yale freshman meet, he won the hammer throw and he also performed well in the 220-yard hurdles and the broad jump (now the long jump) in intramural competitions.

He easily made ...


Leslie Heywood

track-and-field athlete, was the fifth of ten children born to Fred “Doc” and Evelyn Coachman in Albany, Georgia. She was primarily raised by her great-grandmother and maternal grandmother and endured the difficulties of impoverishment. As a child, she participated in music and dance and was active in sports. Like many other African American women, she competed in basketball and track in junior high, where she came to the attention of Coach Henry E. Lash at Madison High School.

It was at this point that Coachman made a leap and became part of what was fast becoming a track-and-field dynasty when she transferred to the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, where she was trained by the renowned coach Cleveland Abbott. Founded by Booker T. Washington in 1881 as a teacher s college Tuskegee was one of the first black institutions to embrace women s athletics and Abbott s team ...


Robert Fikes

, gymnast and coach, was born in south central Ohio and raised in Summithill, the son of Blaine Coons, a farmer, and Grace (maiden name unknown), a barber. When Orlando was seven years old his grandfather sold the family farm and he and his mother moved from Summithill to Los Angeles, California. At age fourteen he first saw a champion gymnast perform when he used a complimentary pass to the Los Angeles Athletic Club. Although the sport aroused his interest, he lacked the means to train for it. Orlando graduated from Jefferson High School.

Coons went on to find work in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a job that landed him in San Diego in 1935. In 1938 he enrolled at San Diego State College majoring in engineering He worked odd jobs to support himself among them pouring cement for sidewalks and providing room service at the U ...


Paul T. Murray

long-distance runner and physical therapist, was born Theodore Corbitt near Dunbarton, South Carolina, to John Henry Corbitt, a farmer and railroad worker, and Alma Bing Corbitt, a seamstress and union official. Though small in stature, the young Corbitt helped on the family farm, plowing and picking crops, forging a work ethic that would become the trademark of his athletic career. While white children rode the bus, Corbitt walked the dusty roads back and forth to school. At age nine his family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he won his first races in school competitions. He graduated from Cincinnati's Woodward High School in 1938 and enrolled in University of Cincinnati that fall. There he joined the track and cross-country teams, trying every running event from 100 yards to two miles. He graduated in 1942 with a degree in Education Corbitt was drafted into the U S Army and ...


Richard Sobel

first African American Ivy League head coach, 1984 U.S. Olympic men's track-and-field team head coach, and president of USA Track & Field from 1992 to 1996, was born Lawrence Thomas Ellis in Englewood, New Jersey. With two older sisters, Virginia Robinson and Theresa Brisbane, Ellis grew up in the Bronx in New York City, on a street known for its gangs. His parents, Henry Ellis, a tailor, and Anna Wright Hart, a Macy's saleswoman and a child's nurse, separated during his youth and Ellis worked part-time jobs in order to help make ends meet. Ellis's mother and the late Rev. Edler Hawkins, a Presbyterian minister, were positive influences in his younger years. “Basically, I was a good kid,” he explained. “I joined the Boy Scouts. I played ball in the street, touch football (Alfano, New York Times, Apr. 1984 section 5 1 For ...


Sharon L. Barnes

actress and writer, was born in Jacksonville, Florida, the daughter of Daniel Marshall Gilbert, the owner of a furniture business, and Edna Earl Knott, the owner of a dressmaking business. In an unfinished autobiographical manuscript Gilbert wrote that because of her parents' jobs, she was cared for and educated by a nurse. She enrolled in the Boylan Home, a seminary for girls in Jacksonville, when she was in the fourth grade. After her family moved to Tampa, Florida, Gilbert attended a Catholic school and the Orange Park Normal and Industrial School. She went to Edward Waters College in Jacksonville and after graduation taught school in southern Florida before deciding that she wanted a different profession. She then entered the Brewster Hospital Nurses Training School and graduated three years later, staying on the staff for two more years as the assistant superintendent.

After moving to New York City ...


Antje Daub

athlete, scholar, soldier, and judge, was born in Jacksonville, Florida, one of nine children of Walter Holmes Gourdin, a meat cutter and part Seminole Indian, and Felicia Nee, an African American woman who was a housekeeper. Little is known about his early school career, other than that he was valedictorian of his high school class in 1916. Although poor, Gourdin's parents recognized their son's talents and educational potential and, following his high school graduation, moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to further his career. There, Gourdin attended Cambridge High and Latin, which helped prepare him for the high academic demands of an Ivy League education.

By the time he enrolled in his freshman year at Harvard in 1917 Gourdin appears to have been a conscientious and responsible student To pay tuition he supported himself by working as a postal clerk He also became a ...


John A. Lucas

the first African American to win an individual Olympic Games gold medal, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of William A. Hubbard. Olympic historians know nothing of his father's occupation nor his mother's full name at the time of her marriage. After excelling in both academics and athletics at Walnut Hills High School between 1918 and 1921, Hubbard entered the University of Michigan. As a freshman he tied the school record in the 50-yard dash, set a school record of 24 feet 63⁄4 inches in the long jump, and won two U.S. National Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Championships in the long jump (24 feet 51⁄2 inches) and triple jump (48 feet 11⁄2 inches). He won All-American honors in 1922, and until his graduation in 1925, his exploits reserved for him recognition as the greatest combination sprinter-jumper of the 1920s.

Hubbard was a compact 150 ...


Greta Koehler

track-and-field athlete, was born in Virginia. The names of his parents and their occupations are unknown. He grew up in suburban Philadelphia and later moved to Plymouth, Pennsylvania, a coal-mining region during the Great Depression, with his family.

Johnson started his track-and-field career as a junior at Plymouth High School, where he won the 100- and 220-yard dashes in state record times, 9.8 seconds and 21.4 seconds, respectively, in 1932 He won state titles that same year in the 100 and 220 yard dashes and the long jump and qualified himself for the Olympic Trials in California When his parents did not have the resources for him to make the trip the town raised the necessary money Johnson finished fourth in his semifinal In Johnson s senior year the state did not hold a state meet because of the Depression not giving Johnson the chance to compete at ...


Bob Greene

inventor, educator, author, race driver, musician, and community leader, was born in Portland, Cumberland County, Maine, the son of Frank M. Johnson and Eva M. Deering. His father died when he was three years old and his mother remarried James Verra, a widower. Johnson, called both Jim and, in his early years, Lloyd, was raised along with Mr. Verra's five children.

After graduating from Portland High School in 1928 Johnson enrolled at the Franklin Institute a technical school in Boston Massachusetts His interest in automobiles had begun early and he became a mechanic and a machinist His teaching ability was first noticed while he was serving in the U S Navy during World War II where Johnson was praised by Naval officials He instructed ordinance trainees and helped research a new technique for indexing all destroyer gun batteries and ...


Evan J. Albright

lawyer, government official, and college athlete, was born in Berkley, Virginia, the eldest son of Ashley Henry and Josephine Baker, both former slaves. Not long after William's birth the family moved to Portsmouth, where Ashley Henry became a minister in the Ebenezer Baptist Church. In 1885 William enrolled in the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute in Petersburg, a school for the children of Virginia's African American elites established to fulfill a campaign promise made by the Virginia Readjuster Party, which through a coalition of Republican whites and newly freed African Americans had won control of the state government. At Virginia Normal, William found a mentor in the school's president, John Mercer Langston. When Democrats came back into power in Virginia in 1887, Langston was fired. William Lewis led a delegation of students to Richmond where they received an audience with Governor Fitzhugh Lee ...


Alva Moore Stevenson

chemist, Olympic medalist, and university professor, was born to Isabelle Lu Valle and James Arthur Garfield Lu Valle in San Antonio, Texas. His father was a newspaper editor in Washington, D.C., and an itinerant preacher; his mother was a secretary. Lu Valle's parents separated when he was still young, and James moved with his mother and sister to Los Angeles in 1923. His father traveled worldwide after the separation and was in Europe for a time; Lu Valle remained estranged from him. At a young age he became a voracious reader. A chemistry set given him as a child changed his original interest in the sciences from engineering to chemistry.

James was an excellent student at McKinley Junior High School His scholastic record there qualified him to attend the competitive Los Angeles Polytechnic High School where his academic interests in science and math were further cultivated ...


William J. Baker

Olympic track champion, was born James Cleveland Owens in Oakville, Alabama, the son of Henry Owens and Mary Emma Fitzgerald, sharecroppers. Around 1920 the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where the nickname “Jesse” originated when a schoolteacher mispronounced his drawled “J. C.” A junior high school teacher of physical education, Charles Riley, trained Owens in manners as well as athletics, preparing him to set several interscholastic track records in high school. In 1932 the eighteen-year-old Owens narrowly missed winning a place on the U.S. Olympic team. Enrolling in 1933 at Ohio State University, Owens soared to national prominence under the tutelage of the coach Larry Snyder. As a sophomore at the Big Ten championships, held on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan, on 25 May 1935 he broke world records in the 220 yard sprint the 220 yard hurdles and the long ...


Bernita D. Lucas

track and field athlete, Olympian, and educator, was born Tidye Anne Pickett in Chicago, Illinois, the younger of two children of Sarah Elizabeth Patton, homemaker and active member of the War Mothers, and Louis Alfred Pickett, who worked for the International Harvester Corporation. Tidye's parents doted on her and her elder brother Charles, raised them to love family, God, and country, and were diligent in protecting and guiding them through the sometimes harsh realities of American racism in the first half of the twentieth century.

Sarah Pickett was involved in local community affairs, and politics eventually led her to several leadership positions as chaplain, historian, and president of a local chapter of the American War Mothers, which was founded in 1917 by mothers whose children were in the armed services, and was incorporated by an Act of Congress of 24 February 1925 The ...


Gregory Travis Bond

athlete, classical scholar, singer, postal worker, and teacher, was born in Hannibal, Missouri, to James Poage, a tanner, and Annie Coleman Poage, a domestic worker. Both parents were Missouri-born, and Annie claimed to have “freedom papers,” issued either before the outbreak of the Civil War or before the 13th Amendment in 1865. Poage’s siblings were Lulu Belle Poage and Nellie Poage, the future mother of attorney Howard Jenkins, Jr. The Poages moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin, in 1884, where James was employed as coachman and Anna as cook and domestic servant at the estate of Albert Pettibone, a wealthy lumber mill owner. After the deaths of Lulu Belle in 1887 and James of tuberculosis in 1888 Anna and her two surviving children moved to the Albert Clark Easton and Lucian Frederick Easton estate where Anna was stewardess in charge of domestic ...


Jamal Ratchford

track-and-field coach, was born Edward Stanley Temple in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the only child of Christopher Richard Temple and Ruth Naomi. He primarily was raised by his grandparents and as a child frequently attended a Baptist church, where he regularly found trouble. Temple's parents decided to enroll him in music, and he maintained this interest as an adolescent. In 1942 he entered John Harris High School in Harrisburg. As an all-state athlete in football, basketball, and track and field, Temple was eager to compete at the college level. He intended to attend college in Pennsylvania at Cheney State Teachers College, Westchester College, or Pennsylvania State University, but Tom Harris, the track-and-field coach at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State College (Tennessee A&I; later Tennessee State University) in Nashville, had other plans. Harris, who also recruited Temple's rival Leroy Davis another track and field star at John Harris High ...


Adam R. Hornbuckle

track and field athlete and Olympian, known as The Midnight Express, was born Thomas Edward Tolan in Denver, Colorado, the son of Edward Tolan and Alice (maiden name unknown). When Tolan was a youngster, his parents moved first to Salt Lake City, Utah, and then to Detroit, Michigan, in search of better employment opportunities. In Detroit he received his secondary education at Cass Technical High School. Tolan, who played quarterback on the football team and sprinted on the track team, garnered national attention through his exceptional running ability. The highlight of his high school football career came in 1926, when the five foot seven, 140-pound speedster rushed for six touchdowns against rival Western High School. Although a subsequent knee injury limited his gridiron ability, Tolan in 1927 ran one hundred yards in 9.8 seconds, establishing a Michigan state high school record.

Upon graduating from high school in 1927 ...


Alonford James Robinson

Foot racing was a common feature of early American slave society. In the narratives of former slaves foot racing is recounted as a popular sport on southern plantations. In one such narrative, former slave Frederick Douglass described the popularity of sports such as Boxing, wrestling, and foot racing in his autobiography, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881; revised 1892).

Since most sporting competitions during slavery were segregated, the opportunities for blacks to compete against whites in foot races were limited. However, in the 1830s the Highland Games—organized by Scottish American civic groups—and colored branches of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) featured inter-racial and inter-ethnic competition. Foot racing and fast walking (pedestrianism) were among the events in which African American athletes excelled.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century the performance of African American short and long distance runners were celebrated moments. Francis ...