Fairbanks was born November 14, 1916 in New York City and fell in love with figure skating in the 1930s. Despite her ability, she was not allowed to join skating clubs because of her race. She was often told “we don’t have Negroes in ice shows”. She eventually left the United States and joined the Rhapsody on Ice Show where she wowed international audiences.
When she returned to the U. S. she found that the situation had not changed. After retiring from skating, Fairbanks started a skating club and coached many champions including Scott Hamilton, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Kristi Yamaguchi and Tiffany Chin. In 1997, Fairbanks became the first African American to be inducted into the United States Figure Skating Hall of Fame.