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First African-American Athlete to Win a Medal in the Olympic Games

George Coleman Poage

In 1904, George Coleman Poage became the first African-American to ever win a medal at the Olympics. The Olympic games that year were held in St. Louis, Missouri, and Poage made history by winning two bronze medals in both the 200-yard and 400-yard hurdles.
Born in Hannibal, Missouri on November 6, 1880, Poage move to La Crosse, Wisconsin when he was 4-years old. As a teen, he attended La Crosse High School where he was considered to be a very promising athlete. He was also one of the school's most scholarly students, and even made history as the first African American to graduate as the class salutatorian.

Later he attended the University of Wisconsin and continued to make history when he became the first African American to be on the Badger track team. He excelled there as well both athletically and scholarly, and graduated in 1903 with a degree in History.

During times of nationwide segregation and an intense struggle for racial equality, Poage managed to qualifiy for the 1904 Summer Olympics with the sponsorship of The Milwaukee Athletic Club. After his success in the Olympic Games, he became a teacher in 1920. But when he later moved to Chicago, he was forced to work in a restaurant for four years because Black teachers were not allowed in the city at that time.

He later shifted gears, and became a postal clerk - a job he stayed with for nearly thirty years. He remained in Chicago until his death in 1962. He never married or had any children.