Isabelle Daniels interview, June 8, 2017

Daniels (left) vs. Giuseppina Leone at the 1956 Olympics

Isabelle Daniels was a member of the 1956 Tigerbelle Olympians who won a bronze medal in the 56’ Olympic Games.  Her nickname was Tweety.

Listen to the audio interview here:

Isabelle Daniels

Dwight: Your thoughts about Coach Temple? How did he recruit you from Jakin, Georgia, and where is Jakin, Georgia?

Isabelle: Jakin, Georgia is in southwest Georgia. It is southwest of Atlanta. It is near Bainbridge, Georgia and Dothan, Alabama. It is near Florida.

Dwight: How did he find out about you, and how did you get to Tennessee State?

Isabelle: First of all, I competed in track and field in high school, and I graduated from Carver High School, which was the last year they had Carver. They closed that school after my class graduated, the class of 12 people.

And they had a basketball team, goals but no gym back then.

And we had track meets known as field day. I started running in the fifth grade and they started having those meets when I was in about the ninth or tenth grade.

And I was winning all of them. We used to run at different schools in Early County, that’s the county that Jakin is in, and every time I would run I would win.

We had a supervisor for all of the black schools –name not clear—in Early County.

She was impressed with how I was winning and she got in contact with Ed Temple somehow. She knew something about the Tennessee State women’s track team but I didn’t know anything about it. I was just enjoying running and winning.

She called Coach Temple someway and he told Miss Scott to have me in Tuskegee, Alabama the next week. Tuskegee used to invite all high school boys and girls to a meet there.

And she said he would come there to scout. And so I went. We ran the 50-yard dash as the first event and I won a close second.

Before I went Miss Scott had told those at my school to practice me on techniques, such as getting ready for on your mark, get set and go.

After the race, Miss Scott, who was the supervisor, was standing off all teary eyed, crying. My mother was there with me and I asked my mom, what’s wrong with Miss Scott?

Is she crying because I lost? My mother said, no, she’s crying because she’s happy. She’s happy because I was going to be invited to Tennessee State that summer (summer of 1954) to compete for a scholarship.

When I went up to Tennessee State that summer my mother and I rode up to Nashville with two teachers from Carver who were going up that way.

Mr. Temple was out there waiting when we arrived at Wilson Hall, that was the name of the dormitory. He said well, I will let you get use to campus and do what you need to do.

My mother and I got used to the bus line and took care of some of the things I needed and she spent two days with me. The next morning she caught the bus and came back to Jakin, Georgia.

When it came time for her to go, I went downstairs of the dormitory and she said, I must go now. But you take care of yourself and I am pleased on what I saw.

I will write you or call you when I get home.

Mother’s name was Vera Daniels. My father was back home on the farm. I grew up on a farm.

My daddy always had a garden in the summertime. One particular summer day, I guess I was about 8 or 9, a pig got in the garden. We had pigs on the farm and cows—this garden was right behind the house.

My father told my two older brothers to go in the garden and get the pig out. It was destroying the vegetables. Fred and Arthur, those were my brothers.

My father’s name was Fred Daniels.

He told them to go in the garden and try to get the pig. They went in the garden one by one to and tried to catch the pig and they ran around without catching it.

I asked my daddy to please let me in the garden to try to catch the pig. My daddy finally opened the gate and he said you can go in to try to catch the pig.

I ran around and I caught the pig. And then I two older brothers came around and wanted to help hold the pig down. That eventually led to my daughter writing a book called Tweety and the Pig. My nickname is tweety. It is on Amazon by Ketia Holston.

When I got to Tennessee State Mr. Temple put down the rules of what we needed to do and he made it clear that we were there first of all to honor God first.

He took us to church some Sundays, and the second reason we were there was to get our lesson. And the third reason we were there was to run track.

He made that clear.

We would look at him as a father away from home. And Mrs. Temple, his wife, was our mother away from home.

When we went on trips they didn’t have perms back then so he bought us a hot plate. He bought a hot plate and some straightening combs and a pair of curlers.

He gave that equipment to the captain of the team, Mae Faggs, who had already made two Olympic teams (with the Police Athletic League out of Bayside, N.Y., in 1948 and 1952).

He gave her a hot plate, curlers and combs and said you take care of these girls heads. She did and we washed our hair in the dormitory and got them fixed.

There were some trips we went on after Mae had graduated and we used a wax to take care of our hair. Our hair would look nice because Mr. Temple wanted us to look like young ladies.

And that’s what he wanted us to be like. And after we got situated we practiced and we couldn’t be late for practice.

He would have us to run extra laps for punishment if we were late. But he didn’t have too many people being late.

We had work-aid scholarships. We had to work an hour a day. One of my jobs was to work for a history teacher filing test papers and things like that.

We worked as a group at practice and when Wilma joined us I remember her being so tall that when she would take her mark, get set, go, instead of her pumping her arms up and down they would be flapping everywhere.

We helped her with that, and we helped each other. We practiced everything that we would do at a track meet.

During the summer months we didn’t go home. We practiced three times a day. We had to get up and be on that track at six o’clock in the morning, at noon and then at two o’clock we would practice leaning.

Mr. Temple would also get a copy of your grades and if somebody needed help with a class he would get that for your.

And there was no riding around in any cars. I think he had people who watched us. He knew where we had been, where we were and all of that.

One day we were at a track meet and another coach suggested to him that he sit at the finish line.

But he said, no, I am not going to do that. I am going to sit at the starting line. That coach told him to sit at the finish line with him because if your girl fell out at the finish line you would be there to help her.

He said he was going to sit at the starting line because none of his girls were going to fall out.

He never had to worry about that because we were in good shape. If we were going to fall out it was going to be at school during practice, we weren’t going to fall out during a track meet.

When we went to Australia in 1956, Mae Faggs had already made two Olympics so there were six of us from Tennessee State on the U.S. Olympic team.

I made it to the finals in the 100 and I finished fourth. We finished third in the finals in the relay.

Mae started it, she passed the baton to Margaret Matthews, Margaret passed it to Wilma, and then Skeeter passed it to me.

I was the first Tigerbelle to qualify for the 100 yard dash in the Olympics because when Mae participated in her first two Olympics she wasn’t a Tigerbelle.

That’s history right there for me.

Isabelle Daniels was on the Tigerbelle team that won the school’s first outdoor national championship in 1955 in Oklahoma. . . .

Dwight: What would you say about the whole Tigerbelle program?

Isabelle: To me, we were close. Some of us still are close. We were close and a family because Mr. Temple taught us that. He said when you go to a track me, you are real close and you’re sisters.

But he said, when the starter says take your mark, you are on your own. You try to win, but when the race is over, you’ll are still sisters.

The Tigerbelles loved each other.

Dwight: Tell me about Pee Wee?

Isabelle: Pee Wee is a loving person. She will do anything she can to help you. I wasn’t at Tennessee State long with her, about a year or so.

……….When I ran that day in 1954 at the Tuskegee Relays, Lucinda ran also as a high school student from near Savannah, (Bloomingdale) Georgia, and both ended up being recruited from there by Coach Temple.

I’m a member of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Inducted in 1987. My school in DeKalb County won four state high school track championships.

It was Gordon High School. The school still there but the name has changed.

Like I said, Coach Temple was a father to us when we were away from home. He loved his Tigerbelles.

Who would have ever thought this girl from Jakin, Georgia would end up in Australia or Russia to run track?

I was nervous when they said, take your mark, but I had a scripture that I always read, “The Lord is the light of my salvation, whom should I fear?”

When I said that Bible verse, I didn’t fear the Austrailian or the Russians or anyone else. I read it and stood the test.

We ran in Cricket Stadium in Melbourne, Australia, in the 1956 Olympic Games.

Isabelle Daniels