On July 11, 1935, Earlene Brown was born in Texas. Her family was part of the thousands of African Americans who took advantage of the Great Migration and settled in Los Angeles, California.
She had an immense love for sports, from baseball, basketball, and football to softball. The list is endless. She decided to join the Amateur Athletic Union in her twenties and got shortlisted for the 1956 Olympics in Australia.
Because she got there through her love for sports and not necessarily through a college program, she lacked access to a proper training program even as an elite athlete. She worked to raise funds to support her dream of becoming an outstanding athlete, according to The Black Sportswoman. She worked as a beautician in her own shop. Due to the competing roles, she often missed training or an opportunity to make money because she was always confronted with the choice of what to prioritize.
Days before the 1964 Olympics, L.A. County seized the furniture in her home. She managed to acquire her passport for the games by borrowing money from friends and using part of the money in paying off the transport fare to go for it.
Despite the hurdles, Brown won a medal in shot put at the Olympics Games in 1960, becoming the first woman in the U.S. to win bronze in that category in the 1960s. For more than 50 years, no U.S. sportswoman was able to medal in shot put.
In the years to come, Brown rose to become one of America’s top-flying athletes rubbing shoulders with Mildred ‘Babe” Didrikson. But, Brown did not enjoy the kind of stardom and media buzz placed on Babe Didrikson. While the former is considered a white icon in women’s sports, the same cannot be said of Brown.
This has been criticized by writer Cindy Gissendanner, who said economic racism in many years has been used to diminish the opportunity of African-American athletes. It is skewed to impact their training, performance on the track and even after retirement from the sports.
This is evident in the highs and lows that bedeviled Brown’s career. Another writer, Michael D. Davis, succinctly pointed out that, but for the resilience and perseverance of Brown, the system which was designed to discourage budding talents, especially black women athletes, would have dimmed her star.
In spite of these pitfalls, Brown cemented her place in history and shot herself to fame in the face of racism, sexism and classism. There were times that Brown was body shamed but she turned those low moments to cheer herself up.
The Los Angeles mom had many times wanted to quit the sport but the inspiration she provided the Black community kept her going. She is quoted to have said that she is no one without sports. She wondered where her life would have been without her passion for sports.
Brown retired finally in 1965. She passed away on May 1, 1983, at the age of 47.