Wilma Rudolph is the legacy honoree at the 2014 Black History Symposium.
Wilma Rudolph is the legacy honoree at the 2014 Black History Symposium.
Luther College's annual Black History Symposium is Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 19 and 20, on the campus of Luther College.

The event is open to the public. There cost is $20 for anyone who is not a Luther student, staff or faculty

For more information contact Sheila Radford-Hill, executive director of the Luther College Diversity Center (luther.edu/diversity).

"Sport, Media and Race" explores the popular perception that when it comes to athletics, genes and cultural background predict the relative advantages and disadvantages that athletics have in particular sports.

The work of sport researchers, cultural theorists and investigative journalists is to complicate this perception. Their research and the personal stories of black athletes raise the key questions this conference intends to explore.

Is there a race code in sport that reinforces simplistic explanations for black athletic ability? Is the stereotype of natural ability for black athletics exploited by sport media, and if so, how? Do the media portray athletic and intellectual excellence as mutually exclusive?

"Sport, Media and Race" encourages participants to think beyond the global appetite for sports celebrities and explore commonly held beliefs about the athletic abilities of African-descended people.

The symposium's goal is to consider how sport and the media both challenge and reinforce racial assumptions in American society and world culture.

Lectures, panel,

student art Exhibit

The symposium begins with a plenary lecture by David Epstein, author of the New York Times bestseller, "The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance."

The event also features a lecture by Douglas Hartman, a sport sociologist whose research explores race, sport, politics and public policy. The symposium concludes with a respondent panel that explores the themes presented in the lectures from the perspectives of media scholars and the experiences of professionals in media and athletics.

A student art exhibit that visually explores athletics, race, gender and embodiment will be available throughout the symposium.

Legacy honoree

Wilma Rudolph was chosen as the legacy honoree for this symposium because of her athletic ability and her personal story.

Rudolph was born prematurely June 23, 1940, in St. Bethlehem, Tenn. She weighed 4.5 pounds.

At the age of six, she lost the use of her left leg due to polio and was fitted with metal leg braces. Although Rudolph grew up in a poor family, her brothers and sisters took turns massaging her crippled leg every day and her mother, a domestic worker, drove her 90 miles round trip to therapy in Nashville once a week.

Rudolph did much more than recover the use of her leg. In the 1960 Rome Olympics, 5'11" she became the fastest woman in the world and the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics. She won the 100 and 200 meter races and anchored the US team to victory in the 4x100 meter relay.

Prior to her Olympic career, Rudolph was an all-state girls' basketball player at Burt High School where she set a state record by scoring 49 points in one game. After watching her play basketball, the Tennessee State track coach decided to make her a world-class sprinter.

During her Olympic career, the media referred to Wilma Rudolph as 'The Black Pearl' and "The Black Gazelle." She was enormously popular in Europe and fans in Greece, England, Holland and Germany made her a celebrity.

"She's done more for her country than what the U.S. could have paid her for," her coach once said. For example, when she returned from Rome, Tennessee Governor Buford Ellington, a staunch segregationist, planned to head an all-white welcome home delegation; the plans had to be changed because Rudolph refused to attend a segregated welcome-home event.

In her post Olympic years, Rudolph worked as a track coach at Indian's DePauw University and served as a U.S. Goodwill ambassador to French West Africa, now Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Benin and Niger.

Wilma Rudolph was voted into the Black Athletes Hall of Fame in 1973 and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1974. She died of brain cancer at age 54, Nov. 12, 1994, in Nashville, Tenn.