Thursday - August 18, 2016 1:50 am

First black Olympic medalist, a La Crosse High graduate, to be honored Saturday

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Poage Park ceremony expected to have
some of George Poage's relatives in attendance

Workers drill through a three quarter inch plate of stainless steel on top of a concrete base in La Crosse's Poage Park on Wednesday. 

It's the mounting platform for the new Elmer Petersen sculpture of George Poage.

The Poage sculpture was installed just in time for the grand opening of the south side neighborhood park at 11 a.m. Saturday at 500 Hood St.

The park has gone through a massive transformation in the last year, adding a water shower and new playground, along with a new shelter and plenty of new landscaping.

The park was known as Hood Park, until getting renamed by the city for George Poage, America's first black Olympic medalist. 

Poage's descendants are expected for the opening ceremony.

From an earlier story, Poage was born in 1880 in Missouri, but moved to La Crosse in 1884, where he spent his childhood and began building quite the resume for helping pave the way for black people.

He was the first black Olympic medal winner, but before that, he was the first black student to graduate high school, receiving his diploma from La Crosse High School in 1899 as salutatorian of his class.

He continued his education at the University of Wisconsin, where he was the first black athlete to run track for the Badgers, even at one point, taking over coaching duties for the track team as a student-athlete, while coach Charles Kilpatrick was out of town.

In 1903, Poage graduated with a degree in history and returned to school, while continuing his collegiate track career. Later in 1903, he was the first black individual Big Ten track champion, winning both the 440-yard dash and 220-yard hurdles.

The next year, the first Olympic games took place during the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Mo. Black athletes were warned to avoid the Games, where integrated audiences were not allowed.

Poage, of course, did not, and became the first black athlete to win Olympic medals, taking the bronze in both the 220 and 440 hurdles.

Poage went on to teach for a decade in Missouri, before buying a farm in Minnesota. He passed away at the age of 82 in 1962, after 30 years as a postal worker in the Chicago area.

 

Last modified on Thursday - August 18, 2016 3:47 pm
Mitch Reynolds

Mitch Reynolds is the News Director at Midwest Family Broadcasting. He covers the internecine agonies of La Crosse city hall. He really likes basketball.

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1 comment

  • Comment Link Michael mettille Thursday - August 18, 2016 4:59 pm posted by Michael mettille

    Hood park