Ora Washington, trophy in hand, looks over at fellow tennis player Dorothy Morgan, posed beside her with an awkward smile. Morgan is taller and far younger than Washington, but she has been no match for the 40-year-old star, who has just beaten her 6-2, 6-1 to win the Philadelphia Open. Washington stands with balanced, easy grace. Her expression suggests utter satisfaction.
Ora Washington, the greatest Black female athlete of the early twentieth century, left few clues to the private side of her extraordinary career. She wrote no memoir, and the sportswriters of her era offered little insight into athletes’ nonsporting lives. Basic facts remained in doubt – even as the twenty-first century began, the few scattered accounts of Washington’s achievements got plenty wrong.
I started running into these mistakes when I began researching Washington’s life for Shattering the Glass, and it seemed my duty as a historian to nail down as many facts as possible. I visited archives, scrolled through microfilm, and scrutinized photographs. I did some oral history interviews, although the number of people who remembered Washington was rapidly diminishing.
I wrote a short essay about what I had learned and published it with the hope that someone else would come along – someone younger, perhaps, someone more personally invested in Black women’s sports, someone who had the passion and the imagination to dive deeper than I could.
And now, almost two decades later, here we are. I’m delighted to announce that Stance Studios, working with the BBC, has produced an eight-episode podcast on Washington’s life, shaped in many ways by young Black women. Hosted by WNBA star, political activist and team co-owner Renee Montgomery, “Untold Legends” debuts August 29th. Listen to the trailer here. Can’t wait for the rest.