Olympian Wyomia Tyus’ dedication to fighting for civil rights

Japan 2020

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Wyomia Tyus is a champion sprinter who garnered back-to-back gold medals during the height of her track and field career in the 1960s. But after she left the spotlight of professional athletics, she continued to dedicate her life to advocating for underrepresented people.

“My thing I always say is always stay in the fight, and I’ve always stayed in the fight,” Wyomia said. “I started in the fight years ago as a young girl being on the boys’ team, and wanting to wear pants when I wanted to wear pants,” the three-time Olympian added.

Today, more than 50 years after becoming the first person to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in the 100 meters, Wyomia is speaking up and speaking out louder than ever before.

“If they read the records, they cannot say it, they cannot think of anything with the 100 meters without saying my name first, because I was the first one to do it,” Wyomia said.

Wyomia’s confidence, grace, and humility, intertwined with her accomplishments tipped the scales of justice during the civil rights movement. As a young athlete, she started flexing her muscles for social justice on the campus of Tennessee State University where she ran with the women’s track team.

The Tennessee State Tigerbelle took a stand against racism, sexism, and inequality.

“I was hoping to just bring light to the fact of what was happening not just in America but in the world with people of color, with women, and ‘hey these things that need to be addressed,” Wyomia said. “These things need to change, and we have to constantly stay in the fight and fight for what we believe in and what is right and true.”

WSAV News 3 traveled to Los Angles to visit Wyomia. During the visit, she shared an incident that happened in Tokyo when her team wanted to use the men’s team’s starting blocks to practice.

“The men’s coach of the 1964 Olympic team would not let us use the men’s starting blocks in practice,” Wyomia said. “And Mr. Temple couldn’t understand. He kept saying we’re all Americans.”

Wyomia said Olympic gold medalist Bob Hayes came to their rescue.

“Bob Hayes came up… ‘what’s the matter coach, what’s the matter?’ and he told him. He said ‘all shoot, don’t even listen to him, your girls, they can use, my starting blocks anytime they want.'”

Wyomia said this act was a major step in her fight for equal rights.

“Here it is you’re talking about we’re all Americans and we’re all running for the USA but you can’t use the starting blocks because you’re a woman or was it because we’re a woman and Black,” Wyomia said.

At the 1968 Olympics, Wyomia supported the human rights project.

“I chose to wear my dark shorts in my protest. I wore my black shorts because I believe in human rights. I grew up in the Jim Crow south. I grew up fighting for rights, not just rights as a black person but rights as a woman.”

“But I know what is in my heart. I was doing what is right, and right was human rights so that’s what I was protesting,” Wyomia added. She won as a sprinter. The victory was welcomed by those in her hometown, of both Black and white people.

“You see now all what they do for Olympic athletes. At the time I was running they didn’t do it. I mean Griffin, I must say my hometown of Griffin, Ga. did. I came back from 64′, they had a parade for me and then in 68′. I mean they even built a park in my name in Griffin, Ga. The Wyomia Tyus Olympic Park, and it’s a hundred and 60 some acres,” Wyomia said.

“I mean who would have thought from Griffin, Ga. and all the things that used to go on and how Griffin used to be, for them to do that. I mean that’s amazing, and that’s something that lets you know there is change and change could happen.”

She dedicated her gold medal from the 1968 4×100 meters team relay victory to John Carlos and Tommie Smith after they were disqualified from the 1968 Olympics for their Black Power Salute on the victory stand. In addition, Wyomia was a member of the first advisory board for the Women’s Sports Foundation. It was founded to promote leadership opportunities for women by supporting access to sports.

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