Althea Gibson (25 Aug 1927 – 28 Sept 2003)
Althea Gibson came from humble beginnings on a cotton farm in South Carolina, but moved to Harlem in 1930 after the Great Depression hit the family hard. It was in Harlem where Gibson began her sporting career, becoming the New York City women’s paddle tennis champion at the age of 12. In 1941, she entered and won her first tournament and after losing in the women’s final in 1946, she won 10 straight ATA women’s titles from 1947-1957.
She became the first black player (male or female) to be selected to compete in the United States national Championships (now called the U.S. Open) and the age of 23. Even though se lost in the second round, the journalist Lester Rodney wrote
No Negro player, man or woman, has ever set foot on one of these courts. In many ways, it is even a tougher personal Jim Crow-busting assignment than was Jackie Robinson’s…
Her first international title was won in Jamaica, and later that year she broke another barrier when she became the first Black competitor at Wimbledon in 1951. In 1956, she became the first Black athlete to win a Grand Slam event (the French open) and won the doubles title at the same tournament. Her partner for that tournament was Anglea Buxton who became the first Jewish champion at Wimbledon.
The next year, in 1957, she became the first Black player to win at Wimbledon, and the first champion to receive the trophy personally from Queen Elizabeth II. She was received as Jesse Owens had been, by ticker tape parade, and was presented with a Bronze Medallion. In total, she won 56 national and international singles and doubles titles and 11 Grand Slams. She also became the first Black woman to appear on the covers of Time magazine and Sports Illustrated. She retired in late 1958.
After all of that, in 1959, she recorded an album of standards called Althea Gibson Sings and after not receiving many offers or invitations like some of her opponents whom she had resoundly beaten, she became the first Black woman to join the LPGA tour. As you do.
She was inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, as well as 7 other Hall of Fame organisations. She was the first woman to receive the Theodore Roosevelt Award, and in 2013, the US Postal Service commemorated her with a stamp. When she began playing tennis, less than 5% of tennis newcomers were minorities. Now, nearly 10% of all tennis newcomers are African-American.
I have all the opportunities today because of people like Althea. Just trying to follow in her footsteps. – Venus Williams