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BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Louise Stokes Fraser

This week we honor Malden's own Louise Stokes Fraser: U.S. Olympian a champion athlete in the sports of track and field and bowling. 1913-1978

The following was submitted by Malden resident Ted Louis-Jacques, who will honor a number of notable Maldonians for Black History Month this February. 

Early years

Louise Stokes Fraser was born in Malden in 1913, and began running while she was a student at the Beebe Junior High School in Malden.

She was so fast that her basketball teammates suggested that she join the Onterora Track Club, sponsored by William H. Quaine, a postal worker, former athlete, and the park commissioner of Malden. A couple years after, Louise began to win the sprints and jumping events.

While attending Malden High School, Louise was very involved in the extracurricular activities - she set many records in track and field, while also playing center on the girls’ basketball team and singing in the choir at Eastern Avenue Baptist Church.

As a junior at Malden High, she was awarded the James Michael Curley Cup for outstanding women’s track performance of the year. She set the New England record in the 100 meters, and tied the world record in the standing broad jump, jumping eight feet, five and three quarter inches. She was also very competitive in the high jump. These outstanding performances brought her to the Olympic Trials a year later.

 

The Olympics - "I've kept it out of my mind."

At the 1932 Olympic Trials in Evanston, Illinois, Louise’s third-place finish in the 100 meters won her a spot on the women’s 400-meter relay team for the Los Angeles Olympic Games along with Tidye Pickett.

Both Stokes and Pickett served as the first two African-American women to qualify for an Olympic team. However, Coach George Vreeland selected only white women for the final relay team.

Furthermore, when the Olympic team stopped in Denver on the way to Los Angeles, Stokes and Pickett were given a room separate from the rest of the team near a service area on an upper floor, and were served dinner in their rooms rather than at the banquet for the team. They sat and watched while the American women set a world record in the 400-meter relay and won the gold medal.

When asked about this, Stokes commented: “I felt bad but I tried not to show it. I’ve kept it out of my mind.”

Stokes continued to compete and win many more contests after the 1932 Olympics. At the U.S. trials for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, she placed fifth in the 100 meters but once again made the team as a member of the 400-meter relay. The residents of Malden were so proud of her that they paid $680 to send her to Berlin.

Once in Berlin, Germany, however she received the same treatment as in 1932. Upon arriving at the track, Louise was stunned to learn that she had been replaced with a white runner. She again sat in the stands and watched her team with the gold medal. Despite the fact that she was not selected to compete in the finals, the town of Malden treated her as hero with a welcome home parade and a party upon her return.

 

The hero's return

Louise Stokes planned to try out for the 1940 Olympic Games, but World War II precipitated the cancellation of the games. She retired from running, working as an elevator operator, and became a professional bowler. She founded the Colored Women’s Bowling League in 1941 and was a preeminent bowler for the next thirty years.

In 1944, she married Wilfred Fraser and had a son Wilfred “Wolfie” Jr. She then worked for 18 years as a clerk for the Massachusetts Department of Corporations and Taxation, retiring in 1975.

Louise Stokes Fraser held memberships in the Olympians Club and the Onterora Track Club of Malden. The New England Amateur Athletic Union honored her in 1974 with “Louise Fraser Day” at Boston University. She continued to be an active leader in community youth sports in Malden, MA and neighboring Medford MA until her death in 1978.

 

In memorium

In November 1980, the field house at Roosevelt Park in Malden was dedicated in Louise Stokes Fraser’s memory, and in September 1987, a statue was dedicated in her honor in the Malden High School courtyard.

Malden celebrates the important contributions of Louise Stokes Fraser as one of the first two African American women to earn a place on an U.S. Olympic team through the Hall of Black Achievement.

DannyBoy February 14, 2012 at 04:08 PM
It's good to see that Malden honors and celebrates one of their own. Has the USOC ever issued a public apology to Louise Fraser and her family for the injustice and travesty of not being on the final Olympic relay team twice, even though she qualified in both instances?
Chris Caesar February 14, 2012 at 07:09 PM
Hey D, I'm not sure about that. I think it was the individual coach, not the Olympic organization itself, that barred her from participating.
Cathy February 15, 2012 at 05:12 PM
How sad for Ms. Stokes. It sounds like she was a great athlete and worked hard to get to the Olympics only to have her coach replace her twice. What a strong and determined woman to actually make it to the Olypics twice. I'm very happy that Malden showed class and honored her with a parade and later named the field house after her. Prejudice is an ugly thing.
Kasey Hariman February 15, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Great post, Ted! I learned a lot.
Elizabeth A. Hart February 21, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Amazing story about an amazing woman!
Deborah E. Stokes May 18, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Mrs. Louise Stokes Fraser was my late mother, Agnes' eldest sister. As a child, I remember Aunt Louise was a very warm and loving person who was always competing in Bowling Championships. She had a display of many trophies on the shelf above her fireplace. I loved her and I miss her. Thank you all for honoring my Aunt Louise.
Jerome Gentes May 19, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Deborah, Is it possible to get in touch with you directly? I have some questions about your aunt for a project I'm working on. Jerome Gentes
david d. haskell July 29, 2012 at 09:11 PM
deborah, have been very impressed with louise stokes' story for some time, but wonder re bowling -- candlepin or ten pin? thanks -- dhaskell2@verizon.net

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