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Kirsten Brown: First African American in national canoe and kayak team

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Kirsten Venetta Brown made history when she participated in two world championship competitions and three world cups as a member of the United States National Canoe and Kayak team. In 1991, she won a bronze medal in the women's team event at the world championships and a bronze medal in the K-1 team event at the 1991 International Canoe Federation (ICF) Canoe Slalom World Championships in Yugoslavia. She won a gold medal at the U.S. Olympic Festival in 1994.

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However, unlike many of her predecessors like Jackie Robinson, Willie O’Ree and Althea Gibson there was scarce notice of the fact that she had crossed the so called “color line” in a sport dominated by white athletes and most of them men. It was like she led a quiet revolution in a sport that she had loved since she was a child.

According to the Washington Post Kirsten, a native of Washington, DC., began kayaking as a child during summer camp. She pursued the sport full time from 1989 to 1996. She participated in sports around the world. “She was, according to the Post, the first, and so far (2006) the only African American member of the national canoe and kayak team.

When Jackie Robinson and Willie O’Ree crossed the so called “color-line’” there was a great uproar. On April 15, 1947, Robinson made his major league debut at age 28 at Ebbets Field before a crowd of 26,623 spectators, including more than 14,000 black patrons. Although he failed to get a base hit, he walked and scored a run in the Dodgers' 5-3 victory.

Willie O’Ree, a Canadian hockey player became the first black man to play for a professional hockey team. O'Ree made his NHL debut with the Bruins on January 18, 1958, against becoming the first black player in league history. Canadian fans were shocked and outraged.

During the same period another person caused shock and awe when she became "The first African-American tennis player" to compete at the U.S. National Championships in 1950, and the first black player to compete at Wimbledon in 1951. She also broke racial barriers in professional golf. Gibson won 10 straight championships from 1947 to 1956.

Kirsten Venetta Brown died of breast cancer on 21 October 2006. In 1996, she left sports and spent much of her life traveling. Prior to her death she worked as a store clerk and part time in an office.



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