|Competitor for the United States|
|Bronze||1904 St. Louis||200 metre hurdles|
|Bronze||1904 St. Louis||400 metre hurdles|
Born in Hannibal, Missouri, his family moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin when he was still a youngster. At La Crosse High School Poage excelled as both a student and an athlete. He was easily the school’s best athlete. As the second-best student in his class and its first African-American graduate, at commencement in 1899 he addressed the assembly as the salutatorian of his class.
The following fall he became a freshman at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse. After competing with the freshman track squad in 1900, he joined the varsity track and field team during his sophomore year. Poage was the first black athlete to run for the UW, specializing in the short sprints and hurdles. A consistent point winner for his team, he quickly became well respected. When the track coach was called out of town in 1902, the student newspaper The Daily Cardinal reported “while [Coach] Kilpatrick is absent, Mr. Poage will take charge of the track work.”
Poage graduated in 1903 with a degree in History. His senior thesis was titled “An Investigation into the Economic Condition of the Negro in the State of Georgia During the Period of 1860-1900.” He returned to the University for the 1903-04 school year to take graduate classes in History. To help support his extra year on campus, the athletic department hired him to be a trainer for the football team. In June 1904, he became the first African-American individual Big Ten track champion in conference history, placing first in both the 440-yard dash and the 220-yard hurdles.
The Milwaukee Athletic Club sponsored Poage to compete in the third Olympic games that were being held during the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. Many prominent African-American leaders had called for a boycott of the games to protest racial segregation of the events in St. Louis. An integrated audience was not allowed at either the Olympics or the World's Fair as the organizers had built segregated facilities for the spectators. Poage chose to compete and became the first African-American to medal in the Games by winning the bronze in both the 220-yard and 440-yard hurdles.
Poage returned to St. Louis after the Olympics to teach at segregated Sumner High School, where he was the head of the English department and helped coach the school’s sports teams. After teaching at Sumner for about ten years, he purchased a farm in Minnesota and lived there until after World War I.
Moving to Chicago at the height of the Jim Crow era, he found few job opportunities available for blacks, even those with a college degree. In 1924, Poage was hired by the United States Postal Service and worked as a postal clerk for nearly thirty years. After his retirement in the 1950s he remained in Chicago until his death in 1962.
He was elected to the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998.
- University of Wisconsin–Madison, Division of Intercollegiate Athletics. George Coleman Poage. Retrieved June 8, 2005.