Willye B. White (1939-2007) was raised by her grandparents in Greenwood, Mississippi. When she was ten years old, she started chopping cotton—a job she didn’t like at all. Success at sports turned out to be White’s salvation from the cotton fields. At first she was a sprinter but then she turned her focus to the long jump because "for every 500 sprinters, there were two long jumpers.” When White was a high school sophomore, she became the first US woman to win an Olympic medal in the long jump. Her later competitions included four more Olympiads as well as international track and field competitions around the world. She held the record for the women’s long jump (21 feet, 6 inches) for nearly twenty years.
White did not devote 100% of her time and energy to track and field. At the age of 21, she moved north to Chicago to continue her athletic training but also to attend nursing school. After five years of working as a nurse, she became a public health administrator at the Chicago Health Department. She stayed connected to the track and field world as a competitor and then as a coach. White later became the
Director of Recreation Services for the Chicago Park District before founding WBW Hang on Productions, a sports and fitness consultancy and the Willye White Foundation which helps at-risk children develop self-esteem through various initiatives including athletic programs.
Why this stop? The Blue Line Illinois Medical District stop is directly in front of the original Cook County Hospital (now a hotel) where White worked when she first became a nurse.
Watch a video that highlights Willye White’s high jump victories as well as her post-competition roles serving Chicago children.
Get Involved—The Chicago Park District continues to offer sports programs as well as other recreational activities for children throughout the city. Consider making a donation to the park district’s Financial Assistance Fund so that all children, regardless of their family’s financial state, can take part in these programs.
Women’s L Project Connection—White was born in Money, Mississippi, the same town where 14 year old Chicagoan Emmett Till was lynched. His mother, Mamie Till Mobley, insisted on an open casket funeral so that people could see the horrors of racial violence. That act helped spark the civil rights movement.