Black in the Day…An Olympic First

November 6, 1880:

On this day, the first Black person to ever win an Olympic medal was born.

George Coleman Poage (November 6, 1880 – April 11, 1962) was the first African-American athlete to win a medal in the Olympic Games, winning two bronze medals at the 1904 games in St. Louis.

George Poage ran track in the 1904 Olympic games and was the first African American to ever win an Olympic medal. Poage was born in Hannibal, Missouri on November 6, 1880, but spent most of his childhood growing up in La Crosse, Wisconsin. As a teen, he excelled both in academics and athletics. Poage attended La Crosse High School, ranked second in his class, and was his commencement salutatorian. He also was the first African American to graduate from the school. Poage received his high school diploma in 1899 and decided to continue his education at the University of Wisconsin.

Following his short career as a runner, Poage moved to St. Louis to become a teacher at Charles Sumner High School. Spending just under 10 years there, in 1914 he purchased a farm in Minnesota. By 1920 he relocated to Chicago. He encountered few opportunities as an African American despite his athletic and academic successes, and after a series of jobs he eventually found steady work as a postal clerk. Poage worked for the U.S. Post Office for nearly 30 years before retiring in 1950. George Coleman Poage spent the remainder of his life in Chicago until he passed at the age of 82, on April 11, 1962.

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