February 21, 2024

By Constance Garcia-Barrio
Most bookies would have seemed askance on the prospects of Black ladies athletes within the South within the Fifties. “The Tigerbelles, Olympic Legends from Tennessee State,” by Aime Alley Card (Lyons Press, 2024), tells the story of how the steadfast collegians of TSU chewed up the percentages and have become a number of the world’s quickest runners.

Aime Alley Card

Feminine athletes nationwide confronted daunting roadblocks earlier than Congress handed Title IX, a 1972 federal regulation that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any faculty or instructional establishment that receives federal funds. Ladies at TSU confronted a double whammy, since observe and subject was handled like a stepchild of the varsity’s sports activities program.

From the left: Isabelle Daniels, Barbara Jones, Coach Edward Temple, Lucinda Williams, Wilma Rudolph
Picture credit score: Particular Collections and Archives – Tennessee State College.

The coach, Edward Temple, launched the observe program in 1950 with a funds of $64.

“It was supposed to cowl all bills, together with journey to competitions, so it was both…uniforms or an out-of-state meet,” Temple mentioned.
When the staff and Temple scraped up sufficient cash to attend the Tuskegee Relays, they received trounced.

However the Tigerbelles — so dubbed by Earl Clanton III, then TSU’s sports activities info director — had been powerful. A lot of them got here from struggling households within the Deep South, and faculty and observe meant a ticket out of poverty. The grandparents of future Olympic star Willye B. White (1939-2007), from Greenwood, Mississippi, actor Morgan Freeman’s hometown, instructed her she may both “…go to school and get out of Mississippi, or keep house, get pregnant, and decide cotton the remainder of her life.”

Tennessee native Wilma Rudolph (1940-1994) additionally confronted a steep climb. Considered one of 22 siblings, she had mumps, measles, and polio in childhood. For years, she had a brace on one leg. She wore attire her mom sewed from flour sacks stamped with a floral design. However coach Temple acknowledged uncooked expertise when he noticed Wilma taking part in basketball in highschool and recruited her for his staff.

The Tigerbelles, from the left again row: Anna Lois Smith, Wilma Rudolph, Edward Temple, Barbara Jones, Ralph Boston; from the left entrance row: JoAnn Terry, Shirley Crowder, Lucinda Williams, Martha Hudson.
Picture credit score: Particular Collections and Archives – Tennessee State College.

The Tigerbelles owed a lot of their success to the grueling coaching program Temple devised. Card writes:

“The summer time follow began with a boot camp so intense that it will not be allowed in immediately’s schools… The staff wakened at 5 a.m. and ran a five-mile cross-country trek repeated twice extra within the day for 2 strong weeks. Boot camp was adopted by hill sprints …[and] noon hauls in …suffocating warmth. (The Tigerbelles additionally ran by means of pastures, racing previous grazing cows).”

Moreover detailing the Tigerbelles’ particular person struggles, akin to White’s rebelliousness and Rudolph’s being pregnant, Card writes about onerous selections the entire staff confronted. TSU, Fisk, Meharry School, and the American Bible School are traditionally Black colleges inside two sq. miles of one another. When Black college students from these establishments started sit-ins at Nashville’s lunch counters in February of 1960, the Tigerbelles needed to resolve whether or not to hitch them. The staff had motive to participate as a result of they’d skilled the indignities of segregation. They generally stopped on the way in which to trace meets and relieved themselves along with the highway as a result of the restrooms had been for whites solely.

However, participation meant risking damage and arrest. It will have put them at risk of staying in jail, lacking coaching, and probably shedding the scholarships that allowed them to attend faculty.

The guide builds as much as the stress of the 1960 Olympics, when the Tigerbelles competed in opposition to the Germans, Russians, and different elite runners, however Card folds humor into this important second with anecdotes. Considered one of them regarding Muhammad Ali, then often known as Cassius Clay.

Coach Temple sat within the Olympic Village in Rome listening to the younger boxer as “…he talked and talked and talked,” Temple mentioned. “I used to be saying to myself that he have to be loopy. He hasn’t even boxed but.”

The races threatened to emphasize the staff to the breaking level, however a number of the ladies turned to their non secular religion to see them by means of. A few of them had packed a Bible for the journey. Rudolph learn from Ecclesiastes, “There’s a time for the whole lot,” Card writes.

“The Tigerbelles” is an exhaustively researched guide, is written in clear, participating language. Moreover snippets of dialogue, many pictures recreate the period.

The guide is a scrumptious learn, however at a number of factors, Card notes what a strict coach Temple was. He forbade the Tigerbelles to trip in automobiles with boys and reviewed their grades each semester. He additionally had a three-strikes rule. After a lady’s third misstep, he lower her from the staff and gave her a bus ticket house. That mentioned, when Card revisits Temple’s sternness a number of occasions, it tends to gradual the story down somewhat.

However that’s a mere quibble on this uplifting guide. Like Molly Schiot’s guide “Recreation Changers: The Unsung Heroines of Sports activities Historical past” (Wilma Rudolph is on the duvet), “The Tigerbelles” affords web page after web page of inspiration. Whereas Schiot’s guide seems at challenges confronted by ladies of various ages and ethnicities in sports activities from skateboarding to mountaineering, Card’s guide focuses particularly on Southern Black ladies who beat the percentages.

“The Tigerbelles” covers occasions within the ‘50s and ‘60s, however the ladies’s tales provide megawatts of inspiration for immediately’s readers, young and old. The guide ends with a chapter that tells what the Tigerbelles, Ed Temple, and others related to the observe staff did after the 1960 Olympics. Their athletic achievements appeared to gas their triumphs in different arenas.

For info, contact: [email protected] or name (800) 462-6420.