One hundred dollars.
This is all that stood in between my aunt Gwen and the 1960 Olympics and a college degree. Following her senior year of high school in 1956, Ed Temple, the legendary coach of the U.S. Women’s Olympic Track and Field team, invited Gwen to the prestigious summer training camp at Tennessee State University. Her roommate there was Wilma Rudolph, the fastest woman in the world and first African-American woman to win three Olympic gold medals.
Over Christmas dinner last year, Gwen told the family how Coach Temple had offered her a scholarship to cover most of school, but that she’d need to come up with the remaining $100 on her own. That amount may sound small—about $900 in today’s dollars—but it was insurmountable to my grandparents, who were sharecroppers in the Deep South. It wasn’t that they didn’t value an investment in the education of their eldest daughter of eight children; it’s just that they couldn’t afford it.
In 1956, there was no such thing as federal student aid. And in the Jim Crow South, blacks below the poverty line had little to no chance of being approved for a private loan. So instead of standing on the podium collecting Olympic gold with her Tigerbelle teammates from Tennessee State, she spent decades in Newark and Boston working hourly-wage jobs.
It’d be nice to think federal student aid programs were originally created to help indigent students access the opportunities afforded through higher education.
Read more. [Image: Aresauburn/Flickr]