Alice Coachman passed away Monday. She was born, raised and lived in Albany all her life. She taught in elementary and high school in Albany. The only time she left was when she won a scholarship to attend Tuskegee, where she piled up a mess of AAU records in track and dominated the high jump for 10 years. She then turned her attention to the 1948 Olympics and challenged the world to a high jump contest. And she won. The first black woman in the world to ever win a gold medal in the Olympics.
Albany has many great people who have been born, lived or retired here, all with records of impressive feats. But those records may one day be surpassed and they will fade from the record books. What Alice Coachman did can never be duplicated.
She met and was congratulated by King George of England. Upon her return, she was brought to the White House and was congratulated by President Harry Truman. She was given a motorcade from Atlanta to Albany, where many say she was not shown the proper respect for her achievements. But those were different times. Let’s let bygones be bygones. We cannot change the past.
Alice spent the rest of her life mentoring youngsters and inspiring athletes to do their best. There is a huge difference in reading about accomplishing something, having your coach tell you how to do something or speaking to an Olympic Gold Medal Winner, who kneels down in front of you, looks you dead in the eye and tells you, “You can do this.”
Her passing is world news. Google it. And when they tell the story, there is always a little dig in there about how she was received in her hometown. There is nothing we can do about that. But wouldn’t it be nice if at the end of that paragraph it read something like, “Although many felt she was shown a lack of respect for her accomplishments upon her return, no one would deny she couldn’t have been shown more respect in her passing”?
Maybe if on a day we all stopped for a minute at noon to show our respect. I realize that not everyone will stop what they are doing. Some people have better things to do than to waste a minute celebrating the life of a world-class athlete, a great American and one of the finest Albanians to ever grace our city. That’s fine. Just be careful moving around the rest of us.
If the papers, radio and TV would get behind this, we might be able to show the rest of the world what the city of Albany is capable of when it sets its mind to something. It’s our turn to shine. Do it for Alice. Do it for Albany. I know a lot of people were upset that we spent almost half a million dollars promoting our city to ourselves, but here is something we can do to show our respect for Alice Coachman and show the world how far we have come since “way back when.” And it won’t cost us a dime. It seems like a fitting tribute to an historical figure and I like to think she would say if it is good for Albany, let’s do it.
Alice grew up in a world where there were two sets of rules for us and them. She was told she wasn’t good enough and what she could and couldn’t do. She didn’t think that was right, and in her quiet and humble way she set out to show the world that, yes, in fact, she was good enough. She went to college and shattered records in the AAU. And then she took on the world. And she won. And the world remembers and will be watching.
Alice Coachman made us proud to be from Albany. Now it’s our turn to make her proud.
John Wallace is a resident of Lee County.