Earlene Brown

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Earlene Brown
Personal information
Born June 11, 1935
Latexo, Texas
Died May 1st, 1983
Compton, California

Earlene Brown (née Dennis; June 11, 1935 – May, 1st, 1983) was a U.S. African American athlete notable for her careers in the sports of track and field and roller games. Brown was born in Latexo, Texas.


Earlene Brown was born Earlene Dennis on July 11, 1935 in Latexo, in Houston County (Texas), a town which according to Isobel Silden, Earlene '(could) no longer find on the map' by 1973.[1] Earlene's father was 'a 6-footer' and a semipro baseball player with the Negro League in Texas[2][3][4] She was an only child. Her parents separated in 1938 and she followed her mother who joined the second Great Migration of Southern African-Americans to California and moved to Los Angeles.[5]

Earlene began her participation in track and field activities as a member of LAPD Deputy Auxiliary Police after it was introduced on September 9, 1943, by Mayor Fletcher Bowron. She competed and excelled in the basketball throw, which led up to the shot put. (Jet, 10 Apr 1958, p. 54) While attending Jordan High, she was discovered by Adeline Valdez, Josephine Spearman and Clarence Mackey, who tried to get her to turn out for the Helsinki Olympics, but she was then 'too busy going to dances'.[6]

Earlene joined the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) at 21 in 1956, by which time she was already married to Henry Brown, a bricklayer, and had a baby boy, Reginald, born November 19, 1954.[7][8] There, she started weight lifting under the tutelage of Des Koch, while America's original javelin technician Steve Seymour coached her in shot and discus.[9] Since seeing Earlene throw, Seymour was convinced he had in Earlene a potential gold medalist just waiting for an opportunity to demonstrate her talent and had decided to send her to the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne.

Since the Browns could not afford to pay for Earlene's training and traveling expenses, Brad Pye Jr., a very influential sports editor of the Los Angeles Sentinel and African-American community activist, led a campaign that raised funds to support her. Shortly thereafter, though, Earlene and her husband separated and Reggie was left in the care of his grandmother. To support herself, Earlene began attending Henrietta's Beauty College to become a hairdresser.[10]

From 1959 on, Earlene closely associated with the Tennessee State University 'Tigerbelles' whose coach Ed Temple was also the Head Coach of the U.S. Olympic Women's Track and Field Team. Ed Temple spent time 'getting Earlene in shape' for the 1960 Games[11] and Earlene then became one of Wilma Rudolph's closest friends.[12] In the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Earlene - who was notoriously short-sighted and wore heavy glasses as a consequence, except when throwing - was 'beset by both wind and rain and lost her footing and a chance to get a toehold on the crown'.[13] In 1965, she retired from shot put competition. The same year she became a skater. As a blocker for the New York Bombers Roller Derby team,[14] she was dubbed the 'Brown Bomber'. In 1975, after retiring from all athletic endeavors, she returned to her practice as beautician. She died aged 47, on Sunday, May 1, 1983 in Compton, California.

Earlene Brown was the first American woman to medal in the shot put, one of the only two United States women to place at Rome and the only shot-putter to compete in three consecutive Olympics. She has been described by Nathan Aaseng as 'the most unheralded U.S. athlete of all time'.[15]

Track and Field career[edit]

Her events of choice were the shot put and discus throwing. Considered one of the greatest American women throwers of all times, Earlene Brown finished in the top ten in the shot put and discus in the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, setting American records in both events.

Brown was an eight-time (1956–1962 and 1964) and three-time (1958, 1959 and 1961) national champion in the shot put and discus, respectively. In 1958, she received the #1 world ranking and became the first American to break the 50-foot barrier in the shot put. In 1959, she won gold medals in both the shot put and discus events at the Pan American Games.

Undoubtedly, the highlight of Brown's track and field career came in 1960, when she won a bronze medal for her shot put performance (16.42 m) at the Summer Olympics in Rome. After a subpar performance in the 1964 Summer Olympics, Brown retired from track and field competition.

She can be seen as a contestant on the 16th April 1959 edition of You Bet Your Life.

On December 1, 2005, Earlene Brown was posthumously inducted in the National Track and Field Hall of Fame by the USA Track and Field (USATF) during the Jesse Owens Awards and Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony held in Jacksonville, Florida.[16]

Roller Games career[edit]

After a successful career in the international track and field community, Brown made her debut in the banked track sport of roller games in 1965. She began her skating career with Roller Games' Texas Outlaws and New York Bombers. At almost 6 feet tall (on skates) and over 250 pounds, Brown quickly became one of the sport's most feared defensive skaters – her signature move being "the bear hug."

After a brief retirement, Brown returned to roller games, skating with the World Famous, World Champion Los Angeles Thunderbirds. It was at this juncture that she became known in the sport as "747" because of her incredible size and weight – she even wore "747" on her jersey! Despite her girth, the former Olympian displayed amazing quickness and agility and even served as an occasional jammer. In a game skated at Comiskey Park in Chicago on September 15, 1972, Brown mesmerized the soldout crowd with an outstanding performance that motivated the fans to breakout into a chant of her name. Years later, she was quoted as saying that moment was her "biggest thrill in skating."

After the 1975 season, Brown permanently retired from roller games.


  1. ^ Silden, Isobel (1973). Sportswoman (Vol. 1-2), p. 142
  2. ^ Track and Field News, July 12, 1956
  3. ^ Commire, Anne and Klezmer, Deborah (1999). Women in World History: a biographical encyclopedia, p.100
  4. ^ Ward-Plowden, Martha(1996). Olympic Black Women, p.35
  5. ^ See: Seeking El Dorado: African Americans in California (2001), edited by Lawrence B. de Graaf, Mulroy and Taylor
  6. ^ Track and Field News, July 12, 1956
  7. ^ Silden , Isobel (1973). Sportswoman (Vol. 1-2), p. 142
  8. ^ Commire, Anne and Klezmer, Deborah (1999). Women in World History: a biographical encyclopedia, p.100
  9. ^ Track and Field News, July 12, 1956
  10. ^ Davis, Michael (1992). Black American women in Olympic track and field, p.31
  11. ^ Mead-Tricard, Louise (1996) American Women's Track and Field: A History, 1895 Through 1980 (Vol. 1), p. 423
  12. ^ Smith, Maureen (2006). Wilma Rudolph: A Biography, p. 15
  13. ^ Barbee, Bobby: 'How Negroes helped U.S. in Tokyo Olympics' In: Jet - 5 Nov 1964 - Page 54
  14. ^ Jet, 7 Dec 1967, p. 52
  15. ^ Aaseng (2003). African-American Athletes, p. 33
  16. ^ Kingdom, Powell, McDonnell lead 2005 inductees to National Track & Field Hall of Fame. USATF (2005-11-03). Retrieved on 2009-11-21.