The First African-American Olympic Gold Medalist Was a Graduate of the University of Pennsylvania

Congratulations to African-American speed skater Shani Davis for winning the gold medal in the 1,000-meter event at this month’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Davis, who also won gold in 2006, joins a long line of African Americans who have distinguished themselves at the Olympic Games.

The first African American to win an Olympic gold medal was John Baxter Taylor. Running as a member of the 4-by-400 relay team at the 1908 Olympics in London, the quartet set a world record in the event.

Taylor was born in Washington, D.C., but was raised in Philadelphia. After graduating from Philadelphia’s Central High School he enrolled at the preparatory school at Brown University. In 1903 Taylor enrolled at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. After two years of study at Wharton, in 1905 he transferred to Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine. He received his degree as a member of the Class of 1908.

Less than six months after winning his gold medal, Taylor, at age 26, died of typhoid pneumonia.