Ora Washington was a champion, a star of two sports, but prejudice stopped her competing for the biggest prizes of the day. Her sporting career spanned three decades of change in her native United States, but change didn’t come quickly enough.
Washington retired from tennis and basketball in the 1940s. In the mid-1970s a new generation started to dig deeper into her story. Hence the gathering in New York.
As the host finished introducing Washington to those gathered for that glamorous occasion, they started on something new: an apology.
Washington wasn’t there. There was a chair placed out on the stage for her, empty. The host said they were sorry but they hadn’t been able to track her down.
The New York Times wrote in its report the next day: “The silver bowl, gold ring and medallion she was to receive have been returned to the Hall of Fame offices in New York. And Miss Washington’s whereabouts remain a mystery.”
What nobody seemed to know was that Washington had already been dead for five years.
Hearing about Washington reminded me of Althea Gibson’s dual sport legacy in the midst of life-long racism. Untold legend indeed.