Louise Stokes

Via Malden’s government site, there’s a post about Louise Fraser who was from Malden and was one of the two first African-American women to go to the Olympics. I’m guessing the story will not stay on the front page for too long, so here’s another site that talks about her:

At the 1932 Olympic Trials in Evanston, Illinois, Louise’s third-place finish in the 100 meters won her a spot on the women’s 400-meter relay team for the Los Angeles Olympic Games, along with Tidye Pickett. Photos of the 1932 Olympic Track team include a determined-looking Stokes in the lineup along with Pickett, but coach George Vreeland selected only white women for the final relay team. Historian A. D. Emerson suggests that “the exclusion of Tidye Pickett and Louise Stokes from the 1932 Olympics remains a pivotal point in Olympic history where politics and racial tensions threatened any future possibilities for black female athletes to compete on a world stage in representing the United States in the Olympic games” (Emerson, 9). The exclusion of Stokes was a questionable call, as she had beaten Mary Carew, who was selected, in a majority of races, and they had tied for fourth in the Olympic Trials. Furthermore, when the Olympic team stopped in Denver on the way to Los Angeles, Stokes and Pickett were given a room separate from the rest of the team near a service area on an upper floor, and were served dinner in their rooms rather than at the banquet for the team.

Stokes continued to compete after the 1932 Olympics, winning sprints at distances from 25 to 200 meters, as well as the high jump and broad jump. At the U.S. trials for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, she placed fifth in the 100 meters but once again made the team as a member of the 400-meter relay. In what must have been devastating to Stokes, history repeated itself when at the Berlin games, Stokes found she had been replaced by a white runner.

She not only had to deal with racism, there was also rampant sexism:

In a move that set back the efforts of American sportswomen, the United States Olympic Committee voted in 1914 to formally oppose women’s athletic participation in the Olympic Games.

Despite disparities in Olympic competition caused by World War I and the U.S. ban on female participation, women’s events were added to the 1920 Olympics, and American women gained full status.

The women’s 800-meter run at the 1928 Olympics, after which two untrained women lay down on the field in understandable exhaustion after their run, was the basis for a movement by the International Olympic Committee in 1929 to remove women’s track and field from the 1932 Olympics.

It’s always good to remember the people who helped bring about change and Louise Stokes was one of them. She isn’t known, because she wasn’t allowed to compete but it was a start.

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