Maple Fairbanks (1915-2001) was a pioneering Black figure skater that broke barriers in the skating world for people of color. She was a top coach to several Olympians. In 1997 she became the first African-American woman inducted into the U.S. figure Skating Hall of Fame.
Fairbanks was born in New York City on November 14, 1915. As a young girl she was deeply inspired by a Sonia Henie movie. She soon saw a pair of black skates in a pawnshop and haggled the price down $1.50. They were two sizes too big but that didn’t stop Fairbanks, she stuffed the toes with cotton and tied them on. Fairbanks began to practice balancing by going up and down the stairs of her apartment building. She taught herself to skate on a frozen lake. The local public indoor rink denied her access because of her race, but Mabel kept returning to the rink day after day until the manager finally allowed her in. Pro skaters at the rink became interested in her and began giving her free skating lessons. Mabel was very talented and her skills were competition quality, but she was not allowed to join any figure skating clubs or allowed to participate in any competitions because she was black.
Eventually she was hired to skate with several professional shows that traveled nationally and internationally. Her skating was spellbinding and fearless, she had fans around the world. She was considered One of the worlds best figure skaters of her time. But still, she was not allowed to participate in official competition.
After Mable’s professional career she became a skating coach in Los Angeles California. Her passion for the sport never wavered, she made a point to provide free lessons to those who could not pay. She helped many skaters accomplish some of the things that she was not allowed to do. Mabel once said, “If I had been allowed to go into the Olympics or Ice Capades like I wanted to then, I may not have helped other Blacks like I did, and coach such wonderful skaters, and I think all that has been just as important and meaningful.”
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Mabel Fairbanks: The first African-American in the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame
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