"History is written by the victors." African trailblazers are often omitted from the history books deliberately. In the early 90s, African Americans faced segregation; women were subjected to double segregation (even post-slavery) – gender and racial discrimination. Louise Stokes and Tidye Pickett fought to quell the system, but history forgot them nonetheless. Stokes and Pickett were track and field athletes in the early 1930s. The first African-American woman to participate in the Olympics. Their story epitome of a significant fight for inclusion culminating in the post-civil rights era.
Louise Mae Stokes
Stokes was an African-American athlete (track and field). She was born on the 27th of October 1913 and died on the 25th of March 1978. A meritorious sportsperson from a young age, she was part of her high school basketball team. She was so fast and reflex responsive that her teammates suggested that she joins the track club. They nicknamed her “The Malden Meteor." That was the genesis of her career, or let's call it, the fight for fair inclusion in sports.
In 1932 she trialed for the United States Olympic team. She came 4th, earning herself a spot in the 4 x 100 meters relay team. However, when the day of reckoning came, she was unfairly replaced by another white athlete—a case of tokenism. But we celebrate that she and Pickett (as shall be explained) were the first African-American women to be selected for the Olympics. When the Chicago defender interviewed her, she said, “I felt bad, but I tried not to show it."
During the pre-civil rights era, the inclusion of women in sports was controversial, not just because of race, but gender since strenuous sports were seen as damaging to women and their internal organs.
The United States team celebrated its excellent performance at the Olympics with a banquet, but Stokes and Pickett were not invited. Instead, they were served dinner in their room. A classic case of abuse. That never deterred them from pursuing their dream.
Once again, she trialed for the 1936 Olympic qualifiers. She aced the heats and semifinals for 100 meters. But she failed to win the final because of a minor error. So, although she was selected to be part of the relay team, she did not compete again.
Louise Stokes ended her career in track and field by founding the Colored Women’s Bowling League, creating opportunities for other black women.
Tidye Ann Pickett
Pickett was born an athlete but died a teacher. She was born in Chicago, where she ran at a young age. Perhaps it's luck or fate she got the chance to be coached by the long jumper John Brooks. In 1932 just like Stokes, she qualified for the United States Olympic trials, competing in the 100-meter dash. The came 6th.
Her journey to the Olympics with her fellow fighter Stokes was characterized with abuse, synonymous with the Israelites trek to the Promised Land. Thomas Damion, the curator of sports at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African-American History and culture, said ‘at some point during their sleep Mildred ‘Babe’ Didrickson tossed icy water to their beds. To which Pickett confronted her, but nothing was done.
Unfortunately, she was left out in the final four women team for the 100 meters. Also, in the same year, she took part in the opening leg of the Chicago Park District team. She set a world record of 48, 6 but was not definite or formal.
Once again, in 1936, she qualified for the 80-meter dash hurdles Olympic team. She performed well but was eliminated in the semifinals. She also, unfortunately, picked an injury after falling from a hurdle. She became the first African-American woman to participate in the Olympic Games.
She later became a teacher before her untimely death.
It is recommendable that both women were included in the film storyline – Olympic Pride, American prejudice written by Deborah Riley Draper. Stokes and Pickett were only celebrated in their communities; they were symbolic of hope and the end of segregation. History deliberately forgets their trailblazing efforts.