On September 27, 1926, Audrey Patterson-Tyler, the first Black woman from the United States to win an Olympic medal, was born in New Orleans.
Tyler attended Gilbert Academy, a Black preparatory school in New Orleans (located where De La Salle High School’s campus is now). In 1944, Olympian Jesse Owens, who had won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics, visited the school. His speech, Tyler would later say, inspired her to focus on excelling in track.
After high school, Tyler attended Wiley College in Texas, where she won the indoor national title in the 100-yard and 220-yard dash at the American Athletic Union (AAU) competition. She later transferred to Tennessee State University where she had received a scholarship.
After setting an American record for the 220-yard dash, Tyler was one of nine black women invited to join the U.S. Track and Field Team for the 1948 London Olympic Games.
The track athlete won third place in the 200-meter dash (by just one-tenth of a second), earning a bronze medal and a place in history as the first Black woman from the United States to earn an Olympic medal. A day later, Alice Coachman made history as the first Black woman to win a gold medal when she placed first for the high jump.
Though Tyler traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet President Harry Truman at the White House during a reception for Olympic medal winners, she was disappointed that her hometown paper, The Times-Picayune, did not acknowledge that she was a native of the city after her history-making Olympic achievement.
Her return to the southern United States was a harsh reminder of her place in society as a Black woman. A 2014 article on Tyler published in 64 Parishes magazine referenced a 1976 interview with The Times-Picayune in which she noted that New Orleans Mayor deLesseps Story Morrison did not attend a family-organized tribute for her after her Olympic win, instead sending a telegram “saying I was a credit to my race.”
There were other reminders as well. New Orleans’ segregation policies of the time prevented Tyler from training at the “whites-only” City Park track. Loyola University, however, opened its facilities to Tyler.
Tyler did not qualify for the 1952 Olympics. She would go on to graduate from Southern University in Baton Rouge, marry and move to San Diego. There she founded Mickey’s Missels, a track club that would train more than 5,000 students and produce two Olympians.
Throughout her career, Tyler was the recipient of numerous awards including being named San Diego Woman of the Year. She would be inducted into both the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame (1978) and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame (2000).
Tyler died of a heart attack on August 23, 1996. She was 69 years old.
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