The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon

Search Results

Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon


Willye B. White

Willye B. White was born to run. Born on December 31, 1939, in Money, Mississippi, and raised by her grandparents, White discovered her talent for running and jumping at age ten. At sixteen, she competed in the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games and became the first American woman to ever medal in the long jump, earning a silver medal. She participated in the next four Olympiads as well and is the first American to compete on five Olympic track and field teams. She won another silver medal in the 1964 Tokyo Games in the 4-by-100-meter relay. White competed in more than 150 nations as a member of thirty-nine different international track and field teams.

In 1959, White graduated from Broad Street High School in Greenwood, Mississippi, the same year she set an American record for the long jump, which stood for sixteen years. She moved to Chicago in 1960 and began working as a nurse in 1963, first at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital, then at the Greenwood Medical Center. In 1965, White became a public health administrator at the Chicago Health Department. She graduated with a B.A. degree in public health administration from Chicago State University in 1976. White remained active in the field of sports. She represented track and field on the U.S. Olympic Committee, coached athletes in the National Sports Festival in 1979 and 1981, coached and managed at the 1981 World Cup Track and Field Championship Games in Brussels and Rome, and served as head coach for the 1994 Olympic Sports Festival.

In 1990, White founded WBW Hang on Productions, a sports and fitness consultancy. A year later, she founded the Willye White Foundation, helping children to develop self-esteem and become productive citizens through such initiatives as the Robert Taylor Girls Athletic Program. This program taught sports and teamwork to children living in the nation’s largest housing project (which has been demolished), a summer day camp and healthcare in the form of immunizations and dental and medical checkups.

White was the first American to win the world’s highest sportsmanship award, the UNESCO Pierre de Coubetin International Fair Play Trophy. She is a member of eleven sports halls of fame, including those of the National Association of Sport and Physical Education, Black Sports, Women Sports Foundation, and National Track and Field. She was chosen by Sports Illustrated for Women in 1999 as one of the 100 greatest athletes of the century and by Ebony in 2002 as one of the ten greatest black female athletes.

White passed away from pancreatic cancer on Tuesday, February 6, 2007.

Accession Number




Archival Photo 1
Interview Date


Last Name


Maker Category
Middle Name



Broad Street High School

McLaurin Elementary School

Stone Street School

Tennessee State University

Chicago State University

Board of Education

Search Occupation Category
Archival Photo 2
First Name


Birth City, State, Country




Favorite Season

Spring, Summer



Favorite Vacation Destination


Favorite Quote

A dream without a plan is just a wish.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State


Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City




Favorite Food

Southern Food

Death Date


Short Description

Long jumper Willye B. White (1939 - 2007 ) has competed in five Olympic games and is the founder of the Willye White Foundation, helping children to develop self-esteem and become productive citizens. At sixteen, she earned a silver medal in the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, becoming the first American woman to ever medal in the long jump.


Cook County Hospital

Greenwood Medical Center

Chicago Department of Health

Chicago Park District

WBW Hang On Productions

Favorite Color

Bright Colors

Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Slating of Willye White interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Willye White lists her favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Willye White details her family history</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Willye White describes her grandfather</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Willye White recalls her childhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Willye White discusses color caste within the black community</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Willye White illustrates Southern manners</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Willye White describes herself as a little girl</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Willye White explains why she was raised by her grandparents</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Willye White recounts her school years and early athletics</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Willye White reflects on her self-image</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willye White remembers how she got into athletics</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willye White recalls qualifying for the 1956 Olympic trials</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willye White describes Ed Temple</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willye White recounts traveling to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. for the Olympic trials</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willye White remembers traveling to Los Angeles and Australia</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willye White reflects on Australia and her realization that segregation was unnatural</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willye White details her training regimen</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willye White discusses self-motivation in professional sports</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willye White shares her experience at the 1956 Olympics</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willye White denounces the obsession with winning Olympic gold medals</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willye White describes winning an Olympic silver medal</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willye White discusses hermaphrodites and performance-enhancing drugs in sports</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willye White compares competing to escape Communism to competing to escape segregation</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Willye White recalls how she learned to long-jump with no coach</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Willye White illustrates coaching different types of jumps</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Willye White recalls her first newspaper clipping</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Willye White reflects on using her talent to escape segregation</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Willye White recounts her trip to communist Russia to compete</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Willye White remembers her wild teenage years</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Willye White explains why she was kicked off the Tennessee State University track team</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Willye White shares her experiences at the 1960 Olympics</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Willye White describes confronting discrimination in nursing programs</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Willye White details the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Willye White recalls traveling the world to compete</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Willye White discusses her role in the changes made by the Civil Rights Movement</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Willye White shares her disappointments at the 1968 Olympics</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Willye White criticizes Harry Edwards and his role in the 1968 Olympics</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Willye White denounces Avery Brundage</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Willye White recounts the athletes' demonstrations at the 1968 Olympics</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Willye White remembers the kidnapping and massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Willye White recalls her last Olympic Games</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Willye White discusses the rewards of her accomplishment for herself and her family</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Willye White details her work with the Willye White Foundation</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Willye White ponders her legacy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Willye White describes her visits to Mississippi</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Willye White discusses feeling rootless</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Photo - Portrait of Willye White, December 31, 1990</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Photo - Willye White in a long jump event in the National Championships, ca. 1967</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Photo - Willye White in a long jump event at the Olympic Trials in Frederick, Maryland, 1972</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Photo - Willye White in her track uniform at the XVI Olympiad in Melbourne, Australia, 1956</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Photo - Willye White, Chicago, Illinois, 1974</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Photo - Newspaper article showing billboard dedicated to Willye White, Greenwood, Mississippi, July 8, 2001</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Photo - Willye White in a long jump event in Warsaw, Poland, 1965</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Photo - Willye White making a long jump landing at the National Championships in Perth, Australia, 1969</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Photo - Willye White with her U.S. Olympic teammates at Tennessee State University, Nashville, Tennessee, 1956</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Photo - Willye White winning the 60 yard dash at the Indoor National Championships at Madison Square Garden, New York, February 24, 1963</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Photo - Willye White winning her event at the Indoor National Championships, Los Angeles, California, 1965</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Photo - Willye White at the Penn Relays at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1961</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Photo - Willye White in a broad jump event in Warsaw, Poland, August, 1965</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Photo - Willye White in a relay event at the Martin Luther King Games at Villanova University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1969</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Photo - Willye White with the Robert Taylor Girls' Athletic Program on a brochure for the American Red Cross, Chicago, Illinois, 1995</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Photo - Willye White in a cotton field in Greenwood, Mississippi for a 'Sports Illustrated' article, December 1975</a>







Willye White recalls qualifying for the 1956 Olympic trials
Willye White denounces the obsession with winning Olympic gold medals
Now, in the summers, I don't know when this started, but in the summers, I know you went to Tennessee State [University, Nashville, Tennessee].$$Okay, when I was sixteen, at that time there were two universities in America that gave work aid to girls in track and field and that was, there were two ebony-based universities. And that was Tennessee State and Tuskegee [University, Tuskegee, Alabama]. And so it was like a farm program. They would bring all of the Southern girls from all over the South. Tuskegee would take those, and then Tennessee State and you would run for the summer. And if you, you know, they would work with you until you graduated from high school. And then you would come into their program. And so I went to Tennessee State. I chose Tennessee State because it was farthest away from home [Greenwood, Mississippi]. So I went to Tennessee State, and that was in 1956, Wilma Rudolph [who won three gold medals in the 1960 Olympics], we were all in high school. And that was, that was the year of the Olympic Games. And when I got there, the only thing that I knew was I got there May 28th and I was missing all of the cotton. I didn't have to go to the cotton fields. That's what I was so happy about. So when I got there, they were telling us about the Olympic Games, which were gonna be held in November in Melbourne, Australia. And I said, "Wow, if I make the Olympic team, that means I don't have to go home, all the cotton will be gone when I go home now"--not even knowing what the Olympic Games was all about, had no idea, no clue. The only thing I knew was that if I made the Olympic team, then I wouldn't have to go to the cotton fields because I would not get home until after Thanksgiving. And all the cotton is gone. That was, that, that--those were my thoughts. And the trials were held in August, which meant that I would miss the cotton the entire summer. So they had said, "Oh, Willye, you can't make the Olympic team," and--but, see, they didn't know that I had a mission. And my mission was that I didn't want to go back to the cotton fields (laughs). And so I trained and I made the Olympic team. I made--in fact, I jumped Junior Day, I qualified for the Olympic team. And I had six jumps, and all my jumps surpassed the Olympic qualifying standards Junior Day; came back Senior Day, I did the same thing. So the coach was not taking me to the Olympic trials. But after I surpassed the Olympic trials standards, two days in a row, he took me to the Olympic trials, which were held in Washington, D.C. at that time.$$Who was the coach?$$Ed Temple.$Were you disappointed at not winning?$$No, well, when you get to the Olympic Games--let me share something with you about the Olympic Games. The hardest thing in the world to do is to make an Olympic team. That's the hardest thing to do. The second hardest thing to do is to get in the top twelve. And the third hardest thing to do is to get a medal. Now, when you make--the hardest thing, when you make the Olympic team--you've made the Olympic team. And then everything else is a bonus. And then, when you get there, you just said, "Oh, God, please, let me make into competition." So then, and you say, "Oh, God, please, just let me get a medal." You don't care what color it is. It's the lay person, it's corporate America who pushes gold, gold, gold, gold. And the sadness of it is to be, to compete against--you know, you got seven thousand people there. And in your competition, you may have eight hundred people from all over the world. And you're competing with these people. And just to be able to represent your country out of--what? Twenty million people or whatever, to represent your country. And then you--because you don't win, then, you know, it, it, it--you're nothing or you won a Silver Medal. I mean the Silver Medal don't count. You must win Gold, but the sadness of it, and this is why you have so many athletes that are destroying their lives using drugs because of the, the pressure that lay society put on our athletes to be the, to be winners. You know, what about doing your best? What about giving 100 percent? There's always someone that's better, but the question you ask yourself--and this is what I tell children that I work with--did you give your best? Did you give 100 percent? If they said, yes, then you are a winner. But no, the American way is to win at all costs and it is costing the lives of our young people.