Wilma Rudolph, Athletic Femininity, and American Iconicity, 1960–1962
This chapter deconstructs the iconicity of Wilma Rudolph, following the 1960 Olympic Games and continuing through the 1961 and 1962 US–Soviet Union dual track and field meets. Widely admired for her great athleticism and graceful femininity, Rudolph seemed to transcend barriers of race and gender, allowing her to earn acclaim as an American icon. However, while the popular image of Rudolph advertised an ostensibly more inclusive American identity, understandings of her in fact inscribed a disciplinary, exclusive model of Americanness. Both white and black sport cultures redeployed ideologies of race, gender, and femininity to contain the more radical possibilities represented by black women’s athleticism and preserve a more conservative model of American belonging.
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