Today marks the opening of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. But did you know that the last time the Olympics were held in London, in 1948, New Orleans’ own Audrey “Mickey” Patterson became the first African American woman to medal at the Olympics? Audrey Patterson, later Audrey Patterson Tyler, won bronze in the 200m sprint at the 1948 Summer Olympics, barely edging out by British sprinter Audrey Williamson in a photo finish to determine the second through fourth finishers.
Raised in the Gert Town neighborhood of New Orleans, Patterson attended Gilbert Academy’s St. Charles Avenue campus and later attended Wiley College and Tennessee State University. It was at Gilbert Academy where a visiting Jesse Owens told her class, “There is a boy or a girl in this audience who will go to the Olympics.” Young Patterson worked hard to make sure this person would be her. As a college student/athlete, Patterson won the 100-yard and 220-yard dashes at the 1947 Tuskegee Relays, and she ultimately set an American record in the latter event in 1948. Patterson again won the 200m sprint at the US Olympic Trials and she also qualified for the 100m event at the Olympics.
Sadly, though she was honored with a block party in Gert Town, her acclaim went somewhat unnoticed elsewhere in New Orleans. The Times-Picayune failed to identify Patterson as a New Orleanian and Mayor deLesseps Morrison did not attend a ceremony in her honor at the Booker T. Washington High School Auditorium. Nor did the city of New Orleans facilitate her efforts to continue as an elite track star. In 1950, she was refused use of the municipal track at City Park due to the strident racial segregation of the time.
Audrey Patterson Tyler went on to work as an educator in Louisiana and California. She founded one of California’s most competitive track and field clubs, Mickey’s Missiles. Incidentally, out of this group emerged part of the newer generation of track athletes, Dennis Mitchell and Jackie Thompson.
Patterson Tyler was inducted into the Sugar Bowl Greater New Orleans Hall of Fame in 1978 and posthumously in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2000. Audrey “Mickey” Patterson Tyler died in 1996 in National City, California.
Posted by Andrew Salinas
(Image from the Louisiana Weekly Photograph Collection. May not be reproduced without permission.)