"As an athlete whose legacy continues to be invoked 50 years after her greatest triumphs, it is frankly baffling that a book-length scholarly manuscript has not been written to engage Wilma Rudolph’s historical significance. I am delighted that the authors have decided to speak to this oversight. Not only have they chosen to take on Ms. Rudolph’s legacy, but they are also engaging her historical and contemporary significance within the most current and promising shifts within the field: cultural history."—Damion Thomas, author of Globetrotting: African American Athletes and Cold War Politics
"(Re)Presenting Wilma Rudolf explores the historical trajectory of stories about the great Olympic track star of the 1960s. The argument that structures the book highlights a variety of ways that particular media work in these constructions. In the end, as the authors clearly argue and demonstrate, these biographical accounts belong as much to those who construct and read them as they do to the person at their center. Their insights provide an important message for a celebrity-obsessed culture and for the focus on celebrity within the academic field of critical sport studies."—Susan Birrell, University of Iowa
"A delightfully engaging analysis of what can often be a frustrating cycle of collective memory in their monograph (Re)Presenting Wilma Rudolph. They actively reconsider what a biography is and provide an excellent study upon which we can ponder the processes of historical analysis. . . .The breadth and depth of their analysis is quite remarkable as they engage with feminist studies, critical race studies, disability studies, and the fields of biography and collective memory. It is in their writing and analysis that they outline exactly why and how cultural sport history might be done."—Sport in American History
Wilma Rudolph was born black in Jim Crow Tennessee. The twentieth of 22 children, she spent most of her childhood in bed suffering from whooping cough, scarlet fever, and pneumonia. She lost the use of her left leg due to polio and wore leg braces. With dedication and hard work, she became a gifted runner, earning a track and field scholarship to Tennessee State. In 1960, she became the first American woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympic Games. Her underdog story made her into a media darling, and she was the subject of countless articles, a television movie, children’s books, biographies, and she even featured on a U.S. postage stamp. In this work, Smith and Liberti consider not only Rudolph’s achievements, but also the ways in which those achievements are interpreted and presented as historical fact. Theories of gender, race, class, and disability collide in the story of Wilma Rudolph, and Smith and Liberti examine this collision in an effort to more fully understand how history is shaped by the cultural concerns of the present. In doing so, the authors engage with the metanarratives which define the American experience and encourage more complex and nuanced interrogations of contemporary heroic legacy.
Rita Liberti is professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education at California State University East Bay.
Maureen M. Smith is professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Science at California State University Sacramento.
Series: Sports and Entertainment
6 x 9, 352 pages, 10 black and white illustrations