Black History: Special Delivery!!
Mabel Fairbanks never had the opportunity to be an Olympic ice skater. However she was certainly a pioneer of the sport. She is the first African American woman to be inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame. Many of the sports best and brightest were also coached by Fairbanks.
Mabel Fairbanks was born on November 14, 1915 in the Florida Everglades. Little is known about her early life. What we do know is that she was employed as babysitter. She began watching white children skate at a local ice rink and wanted to join them. In 1938, Mabel bought a pair of black leather skates in a pawnshop. She paid $1.50 for the skates. The skates were too big, so she stuffed the insides of the boots with cotton. She first skated on a frozen pond in Harlem and then went to Central Park to practice.
Because she was black, she was denied entry in skating rinks. She was determined to learn and did not let this set back deter her. Eventually she was able to skate in local rinks and received some coaching. She also listened in on lessons offered by other instructors to white skaters. She then began copying their moves. By her early 20s, Fairbanks had formed a novelty act in partnership with a roller skater and took her portable rink and show on the road. Soon she was skating at the Gay Blades Ice Arena in Manhattan to mixed-race audiences. She went on to skate in other shows as well.
Though her talent was undeniable, the U.S. Skating Team refused to allow her to participate because she was black. Fairbanks eventually went to Los Angeles and started a career as a skating coach. She continued performing in ice shows as well. She coached some of the sports’ best know talents: pairs champions Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner; Scott Hamilton, and Kristi Yamaguchi. Atoy Wilson, the first African American to win a U.S. skating title was coached by Fairbanks as well.
Fairbanks was a staunch advocate for equality in the sport of skating. She played a key role in the Culver City Skating Club of Los Angeles admitting their first black member in 1965. She was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1977. She did not have any jumps or skating moves named after her (such as the Lutz, named after Alois Lutz or the Sachow named after Ulrich Slachow). One of her signature moves a spin—where she extended her leg back and above her head and another where she hold her leg straight up—which are commonplace today were dismissed as “spin variations.”
She died in 2001 at the age of 85, She was posthumously inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. .
VIEW YESTERDAY’S POST!
Did you see yesterday’s Black Mail post on Joseph Cottrell, the African American entrepreneur that took the Jheri Curl from the salon into African American homes! Click the link below to see yesterday’s post: