A number of African-American female athletes have emerged as trailblazers in their particular sports over the years, from track and field and tennis to figure skating and basketball. The struggles and hard-won glory of pioneers such as Alice Coachman, Althea Gibson, Wilma Rudolph and Lynette Woodard helped pave the way for later generations of sports greats like Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Sheryl Swoopes and Venus and Serena Williams.
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 World War II.
Another pioneering black female athlete, tennis player Ora Washington, won her first American Tennis Association singles title in 1929. She held the title for the next seven years, until 1936, then regained…