Mabel Fairbanks made her mark in the figure skating industry and was a coach to some well-known ice skaters like Kristi Yamaguchi, the 2012 Olympic champion. With Fairbanks’s remarkable skill in her chosen industry, why was Mabel Fairbanks banned from the rinks as a child?
Fairbanks’ Native American ancestry and being African American caused her the career and passion she wanted as a child. Because of her race, Fairbanks was banned from the ice skating rinks when she was a little girl.
Who was Mabel Fairbanks?
Mabel Fairbanks was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on November 14, 1915, to an African American father and Native American mother.
Fairbanks’ mother died at the age of eight. This left her, along with her siblings, orphaned. During the great migration. Her siblings moved to New York City, while she stayed in Florida with a teacher who treated her like her servant. This did not end well with Fairbanks.
Fairbanks moved to follow her brothers and sisters in New York in the early 1930s. She worked for her brother and sister-in-law at their fish market, but her family was not very happy.
She would spend her spare time watching the skaters in Central Park gracefully twirling and gliding in their skates. This got her drawn into figure skating at an early age. Her interest and determination in learning the sport grew more after watching the movie One In A Million in 1936, starring Sonja Henie. (Source: Ice Theatre of New York)
How Did Fairbanks Start Her Ice Skating Career?
In Fairbanks’ pursuit to learn figure skating, she went to Harlem, by the north end, where there were small frozen ponds and streams. Eager to learn how to skate, she brought along an oversized pair of skating shoes and started her dream.
After Fairbanks relatively knew the basics of gliding and maneuvers, she decided to take it to the next level and start practicing in the city’s local rink facility, where she’s been denied access repeatedly by the cashier because of her skin color and race.
With a heart full of passion for the sport, Fairbanks kept coming back to get her access until the manager of the Gay Blades Ice Rink located on West 52nd street saw her perseverance and let her in. She earned her most awaited rink access. She was allowed to use the rink for only thirty minutes, and it should be at the last thirty minutes before it closes in the evening.
Fairbanks moved with grace, and she glowed in the rink, which caught the attention of Maribel Vinson Owen, the legendary nine-time U.S. Ladies Champion. Owen was the first to believe in Fairbanks’ skill, and she helped her with the pointers that would help refine Fairbanks’ moves.
The spirit of Fairbanks and determination slowly began to crack the barrier of race in the city. But this still did not allow her to skate during regular sessions.
Owen encouraged her to produce her shows and events instead after skating hours in Bay Glade Ice Skating rink and soon launched in different venues around Harlem like Supper Clubs, the Apollo Theatre, and other social event places.
After making her way to the limelight, Fairbanks left New York and moved to California. Her career blossomed, and her popularity grew as she flourished on ice. She soon became a coach to the children of the Elites of Hollywood like the kids of Otto Preminger, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, and Ozzie and Harriet’s Ricky Nelson.
Fairbanks also appeared as a guest in various performances and even made it to KTLA’s show Frosty Frolics. (Source: Ice theater of New York)