SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – During the Summer Olympic Games in 1960, all eyes were on the American 4×100 meter relay team.
On that day in Rome, Italy, the team of African American women made history by bringing home the gold.
What made them even more unique is they were all championship runners who were members of the Tennessee State University Tigerbelles, a part of the dynasty built by legendary coach Ed Temple.
Among the runners was Savannah native Lucinda Williams Adams. It was a victory to remember.
“Standing on that podium, receiving the medal, hearing your national anthem being played, and you are there at the top. Four African American girls,” she remembered. “That experience is so touching now that I look back on it.”
Lucinda Williams cut her teeth in the track and field arena at Woodville High School under the watchful eye of coach Joe Turner.
“He just kept saying, girl, you wanna come out for the track team? I do not have any girls, maybe you will inspire them, the boys,” Williams said. “And I took him at his dare, and he dared the boys to catch me, and he dared me to let the boys catch me.”
Back then, Chatham County Commission Chair Chester Ellis, himself a student, remembered Lucinda as an exceptional athlete.
“The favorite saying among the coaches was Lucinda could outrun you barefoot, which means that you had to pick up the pace,” he said. “She pushed everybody else to catch her, even the guys who ran against her. The Reynolds and Robinson and all those.”
“She would leave you, and then you were gonna be the talk of the town,” Ellis added.
Read more on Lucinda Williams Adams Olympic journey:
- Olympian gold medalist remembers roots in Savannah, Bloomingdale
- Lucinda Williams Adams recounts college journey leading up to historic Olympics
He was one of those who watched as Williams brought home the gold from Rome.
“We were in early TV times during that time,” Ellis recalled. “So if you can picture a small brown box TV that was black and white, OK, and to see her run and know that she came from Woodville Tompkins — that was the thrill.”
But ask Williams, and she will tell you she didn’t always win every race.
“1959 was the Pan American Games, and I won three gold medals in that. That’s the time I beat Wilma Rudolph, bless her heart. Only time really,” she said.
The victories were sweet — the memories even sweeter.
The highlight of Williams’ career came when she was recognized as an icon in her field.
Williams was inducted into the Greater Savannah Athletic Hall of Fame in 1971, the same year schools were integrated.
At the Savannah Civic Center, her name appears on the honor roll of elite Chatham County athletes.
“It was really thrilling because a lot of the folks, Coach Turner and Bryant and all of the guys that I ran with, they were all here. And I really was so proud and crying like I always am,” Williams said.
Recounting the memories brings her full circle, right back to the place where it all began in the Hostess City.
“Life is a journey,” she said. “You’ve gotta complete it.”
Williams married her late husband, Floyd Adams while still in college at Tennessee State, and her daughter, Kim, continued the Tigerbelle legacy.