'She settled for what she wanted to be, which was a black woman in the Olympics’: Alice Coachman Davis leaves legacy behind for young track and field athletes

Updated: Feb. 24, 2020 at 5:15 PM EST
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - Six years after her death, you can still see the impact Alice Coachman Davis had on her hometown of Albany and civil rights itself.

In 1948, she became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal, paving the way for young, black female athletes.

"You have to be very competitive, very determined," said Cameille Milledge, a senior at Monroe Comprehensive High School.

Since eighth grade, Milledge said she has known she belongs on the track.

“I honestly like running, believe it or not. Feeling the wind in my hair, racing, beating people most times,” Milledge said.
Senior Cameille Milledge runs track at Monroe Comprehensive High School in Albany.
Senior Cameille Milledge runs track at Monroe Comprehensive High School in Albany.(WALB)

The drive seen in this 17-year-old is not unlike that of a woman who made her mark on the sport of track and field decades ago.

“She made something of herself.
A little, old town girl making it big in the Olympics, you don’t hear that much,” Milledge said of Davis.

Back in the 1930s, Coachman walked the same halls as Milledge.

At the time, it was Madison High School.

“She came from a small town, Albany, Georgia, where it’s not very known like Atlanta,” Milledge said.

Alice Coachman Davis died at the age of 90.
Alice Coachman Davis died at the age of 90.(WALB)

In still-segregated Albany, the color of Coachman’s skin — and even her gender — often kept her from competing in sports.

But, she told reporters before the 1996 Olympics that she didn't let it get in her way.

“I was jumping, during those early years against the boys, just to show them that a girl could beat them,” Coachman said.

“In order to step into something like that, you have to have confidence.
You have to have drive, because if you don’t, then you’re going to back off," Milledge said.

Coachman joined the track team at Madison and eventually got a scholarship to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

She won 10 straight national championships in the high jump event. That’s one of the same events Milledge competes in now.

During the 1948 London Olympics, Coachman got her chance to take the international stage.

“You talking about somebody nervous, shaking like I don’t know what.
But, after I took that first jump, it all went away. I wanted to bring that gold home to the USA,” Coachman told reporters in 2008.

Coachman cleared the bar at 5'6" on her first jump, making her the first black woman to ever win an Olympic gold medal.

"I didn't know I had won," she said. "I was just jumping until I couldn't jump no more."

Now, Milledge continues to draw inspiration from a legend in the sport.

“She settled for what she wanted to be, which was a black woman in the Olympics.
She’s black. She’s strong. She’s beautiful. She’s a woman of color,” Milledge said.

In 2014, Alice Coachman Davis passed away at 90 in her hometown of Albany.

But she figuratively passed the baton to young athletes, with this message:

“You don’t have to be rich to be a winner. You just work hard and decide that you’re going to be somebody like I did,” Coachman said in 2008.

Like Coachman did, Milledge now has a goal of going to the Olympics and bringing home the gold.

“I’m going to have everything I need to do what I need to do because it’s going to be all up to me,” she said.

Right now, she is looking at which colleges and universities within the state of Georgia she may want to attend in the fall.

She said that she hopes in the next five years, she’ll be in the running for a gold medal — just like Alice Coachman Davis.

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