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Slight Change of Pace for Wilma
Anita Verschoth
September 07, 1964
Former Olympic Sprint Champion Wilma Rudolph is now mother, teacher and coach in Tennessee
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September 07, 1964

Slight Change Of Pace For Wilma

Former Olympic Sprint Champion Wilma Rudolph is now mother, teacher and coach in Tennessee

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Not many strangers drive up the hill any more to visit Wilma. If she is asked to show her gold medals she finds it difficult to remember where she put them last. On one of the two television sets, a present from a fan, rests the heavy James E. Sullivan trophy, awarded to her as the U.S. amateur athlete of the year in 1962. It displays a muscular bronze athlete with Wilma's car keys dangling from his raised right arm.

Wilma herself no longer looks quite like the slim girl who, in a painting that hangs in her bedroom, is shown taking a long stride across a green lawn against the background of a white Colosseum. Her legs are still slender and wiry, but she has put on weight around her waist and hips. Her face has become larger and softer, more mature and motherly. Her smile is wiser and no longer quite as radiant as one remembers it.

One day recently Wilma entered Berkman's clothes store in downtown Clarksville with Djuana sleeping in her arms. She likes to go to Berkman's because her brother Westly works there as a stockroom clerk during his college vacation. "He was very lucky to get this job," Wilma says. "It isn't easy to find work in Clarksville." Westly took the baby so that Wilma could browse among the summer hats. "She is crazy about hats," he said, "and they make her look even more beautiful."

Another day Wilma and her sister, Charlene, drove in Wilma's white Pontiac convertible to a field where the girls of Lincoln Homes play Softball. After she had caught a few balls in practice, Wilma told the coach: "I won't be playing this summer. I have to look after my new baby." Charlene watched from the dugout. "She used to play herself." said Wilma, "and she was a very good runner, too. But then we discovered that she had a heart condition and she couldn't run any more." ( U.S. Olympic Track Coach Ed Temple once predicted that Charlene would become a better sprinter than Wilma.) "I haven't done anything for two years," says Charlene, who is 19 years old and very pretty. "I guess I'm lazy. Maybe I'll go to college and become a teacher. Just like Wilma."

Every day Wilma's home is alive with people. There is Robert's sister. May, who lives nearby, and there is his "Granny," a little bent lady who comes every night to have Wilma brush her long white hair. There are many young friends who drop in for a card game and often stay for the dinner Wilma prepares.

Once a month Wilma participates in a club meeting held either at her house or in the house of another club member. "We don't plan any demonstration marches," she says. "We just sit together and discuss the education of our children. We are also trying to raise money." It was different in May of 1963, when Wilma took part in two demonstrations at Shoney's, which is considered one of Clarksville's finest restaurants although it does not have much more to offer than hamburgers. She was turned away, together with the other Negroes. "I cannot believe it!" she said to a reporter. "Remember the reception they gave me in 1960?" A few months later Clarksville was integrated. "I guess I could go to every place now," says Wilma, "but there are still certain places I won't go."

The children in Wilma's school are all Negroes. "I don't mind," she says, "because only Negro children live in that district. I can't expect any white children to come a long way to go to my school." Nor does she expect any white families to move up the hill into Lincoln Homes. "I like it here," she says calmly, and without any indication of bitterness. "I have seen mixed areas which are a lot worse. Besides, Robert doesn't want to stay in Clarksville forever. Some day he will move. And wherever he wants to go I'll go with him."

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