Althea Gibson Becomes First African American to Win Wimbledon

Althea Gibson Becomes First African American to Win Wimbledon


We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

On July 6, 1957, Althea Gibson claims the women’s singles tennis title at Wimbledon and becomes the first African American to win a championship at London’s All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

Gibson was born on August 25, 1927, in Silver, South Carolina, and raised in the Harlem section of New York City. She began playing tennis as a teenager and went on to win the national Black women’s championship twice. At a time when tennis was largely segregated, four-time U.S. Nationals winner Alice Marble advocated on Gibson’s behalf and the 5’11” player was invited to make her United States National Championships (now known as the U.S. Open) debut in 1950. In 1956, Gibson’s tennis career took off and she won the singles title at the French Championships (now known as the French Open)—the first African American to do so—as well as the doubles’ title there. In July 1957, Gibson won Wimbledon, defeating Darlene Hard, 6-3, 6-2. (In 1975, Arthur Ashe became the first African American man to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon, when he defeated Jimmy Connors.) In September 1957, she won the U.S. Open, and the Associated Press named her Female Athlete of the Year in 1957 and 1958. During the 1950s, Gibson won 56 singles and doubles titles, including 11 major titles.

READ MORE: Trailblazing Black Women in Sports

After winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open again in 1958, Gibson retired from amateur tennis. In 1960, she toured with the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team, playing exhibition tennis matches before their games. In 1964, Gibson joined the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour, the first Black woman to do so. The trailblazing athlete played pro golf until 1971, the same year in which she was voted into the National Lawn Tennis Association Hall of Fame.

After serving as New Jersey’s commissioner of athletics from 1975 to 1985, Althea Gibson died at age 76 from respiratory failure on September 28, 2003, at a hospital in East Orange, New Jersey.


Althea Gibson: The Woman Who Changed Wimbledon

“Martina couldn’t touch her. I think she’d beat the Williams sisters.” These words, from legendary US tennis coach Bob Ryland, referred to the woman who shattered the race barrier in tennis and became the first black person to win Wimbledon. She was described by Billie Jean King as “one of my she-roes”, and was a direct inspiration for Venus and Serena. Her name was Althea Gibson, and she changed everything.

Read more about: Sport

When women’s football was bigger than men’s

Born in 1927, she hailed originally from South Carolina was raised in New York’s Harlem, an epicentre of African American life and culture. Her childhood was a tough time for the nation, as the Great Depression crushed lives from coast to coast. Her father was also a harsh disciplinarian. “Daddy would whip me,” she later recalled, “and I’m not talking about spankings.”

She found solace by riding the New York subway late into the night. And also by getting stuck into sports – particularly a New York variation of tennis called paddle tennis, which local kids played in a playground created by the police using traffic barricades on an ordinary Harlem street. Her talent caught the eye of friends and neighbours, who banded together to buy her rackets and membership of a tennis club. As she herself put it, she was “aggressive, dynamic and mean” – a tall, terrifying powerhouse on the courts. And when she won her first victory in a New York State championship, it was a breakthrough moment. “The girl I beat in the finals was a white girl,” Gibson said. “I can’t deny that made the victory all the sweeter to me.”

As she herself put it, she was “aggressive, dynamic and mean”.


Althea Gibson Becomes First African American to Win Wimbledon - HISTORY

Today, we take for granted seeing such African American tennis champions as Venus and Serena Williams. But it took someone like Althea Gibson, who was the first African American to win the All-England Tennis Championships at Wimbledon, on July 6, 1957, to pave the way for other blacks in tennis. Gibson, who was born in 1927 in South Carolina, grew up in the Harlem section of New York City. She began taking tennis lessons at 14. She struggled against segregation throughout her career often she was denied entry into hotels and restaurants while on tour. Her perseverance made it possible for other African Americans, such as tennis great Arthur Ashe, to follow.

Gibson's same strength of character and purpose was shared by other groundbreaking African American athletes, including Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics during the height of Hitler's propagation of Aryan "supremacy" and Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in major league baseball in 1947. You can read about the pioneering life of Jackie Robinson in "By Popular Demand: Jackie Robinson and Other Baseball Highlights, 1860s - 1960s." Within the Robinson collection is the Special Presentation "Baseball, the Color Line and Jackie Robinson."

Photographs of Gibson are in "Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten, 1932-1964." If you search on Althea Gibson, you will find nine portraits.

A. "[Althea Gibson, of New York, reaching high for shot during women's singles semifinal match against Christine Truman, of England, in All England Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon, England, July 4, 1957]." New York World-Telegram and the Sun Collection, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-113282 DLC (b&w film copy neg.): Call No.: NYWTS - BIOG--Gibson, Althea--Tennis [item].

B. Carl Van Vechten, photographer. [Portrait of Althea Gibson dressed in evening gown], 1958. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-105579 DLC (b&w film copy neg.): Call No.: LOT 12735, no. 419.


Althea Gibson Becomes First African American to Win Wimbledon - HISTORY

Jackie Robinson played in the major leagues (1947) before a black was permitted to play tennis at the U.S. National Championships. But cracks soon developed in the lily-white sport. And finally, in 1950, when Gibson was 23 years old, she was permitted to play at the U.S. Nationals, becoming the first black to compete in the tournament.

Besides making history like Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson felt the same sting of racism as the baseball pioneer did just a few years before her.
She also later cracked the color barrier at Wimbledon.

In 1956, Gibson made history by becoming the first black person to win the French championships. The next year, she made more history by winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals, the first black to win either. She must have liked winning the world's two most prestigious tournaments, too, because she repeated the accomplishments in 1958.

The 5-foot-11 right-hander had a strong serve and preferred to play an attacking game. An athletic woman, she had good foot speed, which allowed her to cover the court. As the years went on, she became more consistent from the baseline. Including six doubles titles, she won a total of 11 Grand Slam events on her way to the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame.

Gibson was born Aug. 25, 1927, in the small town of Silver, S.C. The family moved to Harlem in New York City when she was 3. Growing up there, Gibson disliked going to school so much that she often played hooky.

"Daddy would whip me," she said, "and I'm not talking about spankings." But she didn't blame her father for the whippings, saying she deserved them. Aside from an occasional fight, she was never in any real trouble.

What Gibson liked to do was play sports, At first, basketball was her favorite. Next she became quite proficient in paddle tennis. Then a friendly musician gave her a tennis racket, and she immediately took to the game.

She quit high school -- not because of tennis but because she couldn't stand classes -- and began competing in girls tournaments under the auspices of the American Tennis Association, which was almost all black. In 1946, she attracted the attention of two tennis playing doctors, Hubert Eaton of North Carolina and Robert W. Johnson of Virginia, who were active in the black tennis community.

Soon-to-be welterweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson and his wife, who had befriended Gibson, advised her to go South. She did. Each doctor took her into his family -- Eaton during the school year, Johnson in the summer. Not only did they provide tennis instruction, they also straightened her out academically. She went back to high school for her last three years and graduated in 1949 in Wilmington, N.C.

"If Althea Gibson represents a challenge to the present crop of players, then it's only fair that they meet this challenge on the courts," Marble wrote.

Finally, the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association relinquished and invited her. In her historic debut at the 1950 U.S. Nationals, Gibson defeated Barbara Knapp in straight sets. Her second-round match on the grass of Forest Hills was against Louise Brough, who had won the previous three Wimbledons. After being routed 6-1 in the first set, Gibson recovered to win the second set 6-3 and led 7-6 in the third when a thunderstorm struck, halting the match. When it resumed the next day, Gibson dropped three straight games to lose the match.

It took Gibson a while to adjust to the stronger competition. She also remained unwelcome at some clubs where tournaments were held. She was ranked No. 9 among American women in 1952, but it wasn't until four years later that Gibson displayed the game of a player ready to move into the first echelon.

She won her first major in 1956, the French championships, defeating defending champion Angela Mortimer 6-0, 12-10 on the clay courts in Paris. This was her only appearance at the French. She teamed with Englishwoman Angela Buxton to win the women's doubles title at the French, as well as at Wimbledon. That year she also won singles tournaments at the Italian, the Pacific Southwest, New South Wales, Pan American, South Australian and the Asian title in Ceylon.

The No. 2 seed at the U.S. Nationals, Gibson reached the final. Her opponent was top seed Shirley Fry, who played a steadier match and gained the championship with a 6-3, 6-4 decision.

In 1957, Gibson gained control of the women's game. First, she beat Darlene Hard 6-3, 6-2 to win Wimbledon. Then on Sept. 8, she made history in her own country, defeating Brough by the same score for the U.S. Championship. She also was part of the winning women's doubles team with Hard at Wimbledon and took the mixed doubles title with Kurt Nielsen at Forest Hills.

Even while winning tournaments she was denied rooms at hotels. One refused to book reservations for a luncheon in her honor. She said she didn't care. "I tried to feel responsibilities to Negroes, but that was a burden on my shoulders," she said in 1957. "Now I'm playing tennis to please me, not them."

She pleased herself -- and blacks -- in 1958 by defeating Mortimer 8-6, 6-2 in the Wimbledon final and rallying to beat Hard 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 for the U.S. title. Her third consecutive Wimbledon women's doubles title also was won, this time with Maria Bueno.

Her singles record at the Grand Slams events was an impressive 53-9 -- 16-1 at Wimbledon, 27-7 at the U.S., 6-0 at the French and 4-1 at the Australian.

As a member of the 1957 and 1958 U.S. Wightman Cup teams, she went 5-1 -- 3-1 in singles and 2-0 in doubles -- against Britain.

In 1957, she was the first black to be voted by the Associated Press as its Female Athlete of the Year. She won the honor again in 1958.

After winning her second U.S. Championship, she turned professional. One year she earned a reported $100,000 in conjunction with playing a series of matches before Harlem Globetrotter basketball games.

There was no professional tennis tour in those days. Gibson turned to the pro golf tour for a few years, but she didn't distinguish herself. She tried playing a few events after open tennis started in 1968, but by then she was in her 40s and too old to beat her younger opponents. She worked as a tennis teaching pro after she stopped competing.

Gibson has turned into a recluse in her well-kept garden apartment in East Orange, N.J., according to Time last September. The magazine said she is suffering in silence from a series of strokes and ailments brought on by a disease she is simply said to have described as "terminal."

The title of her autobiography, written in 1958, is "I Always Wanted to Be Somebody." To tennis fans, she always will be. Though she didn't go looking for the role of pioneer, she was one.

"If it hadn't been for her," says Billie Jean King, winner of 12 Grand Slam singles titles, "it wouldn't have been so easy for Arthur (Ashe) or the ones who followed."


Althea Gibson Becomes First African American to Win Wimbledon - HISTORY

On this day in 1957, Althea Gibson claimed the women’s singles tennis title at Wimbledon and became the first African American to win a championship at London’s All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Gibson also won the women’s doubles championship later in the day.

Althea Gibson, born in 1927 in South Carolina, grew up in the Harlem section of New York City. Gibson’s athletic ability set her apart from her peers, and she drew even more attention to herself when she won the Police Athletic League and Parks Department paddle tennis competitions. The recreation director and musician Buddy Walker recognized her talent, purchased rackets, and took her to the Harlem River Tennis Courts. Shortly thereafter, the noted Harlem Cosmopolitan Tennis Club took up a collection to provide Gibson with a membership and tennis lessons.

Gibson’s big break occurred when two African American physicians offered her a home, secondary schooling, tennis instruction, and the encouragement and financial support to realize her potential. Gibson lived with one of the families in Wilmington, North Carolina during the school year and spent the summer perfecting her tennis game on the other’s backyard tennis court in Lynchburg, Virginia. She went on to win the all-black American Tennis Association (ATA) women’s singles ten years in a row (1947 – 1956), establishing herself as the best black woman tennis player.

In 1950, while in her first year as a basketball and tennis scholarship student at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, she reached the finals before being defeated. But she was not invited to any national tournaments on segregated facilities until tennis champion Alice Marble declared in American Lawn Tennis magazine:

“[Gibson] is not being judged by the yardstick of ability but by the fact that her pigmentation is somewhat different.”

1950 – Althea Gibson and Alice Marble walking to the outer court at Forest Hills where Gibson’s first match was scheduled.

Largely owing to Marble’s influence, the invitations started coming in, and she entered Wimbledon in 1951, becoming the first African American to play there. She advanced to the quarterfinals before losing. Gibson’s tennis game continued to mature. In 1956, she won sixteen of the eighteen international tournaments in which she was a participant, one of which was a Grand Slam event, the French Open. With this win, Gibson became the first black person to win a major singles tennis title.

Althea Gibson defeated Darlene Hard in 1957 to win the first of her two consecutive Wimbledon titles

Seven years after breaking the color barrier in 1950, she established herself as champion by winning both Wimbledon and the U.S. championship in both 1957 and 1958. In 1959 she retired from amateur tennis, played exhibition tennis, appeared in movies, recorded an album, and published her biography, I Always Wanted to Be Somebody.

In 1964 at the age of 37 she became a professional golfer. Gibson was the first black woman to hold a Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) player’s card, thus breaking the color barrier in two of the most socially elite sports. She still battled racism, however. For example, the Beaumont Country Club in Texas agreed to let her play the course, but wouldn’t allow her to use the clubhouse or the bathrooms.

Althea Gibson could drive over 300 yards

Gibson married in 1965. In later years, she served as a professional tennis teacher and coach as well as the program director for a racquet club and athletic commissioner for the state of New Jersey. In 1994, Gibson suffered a stroke that left her confined to her home. She died in 2003 in her home city of East Orange, New Jersey.

Among Althea Gibson’s many honors were the Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year (1957 – 1958), National Tennis Hall of Fame (1971), Black Athletes Hall of Fame, International Tennis Hall of Fame (1971), and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame (1980). Gibson served as an inspiration for others such as Zina Garrison, Venus Williams, and Serena Williams. The way was paved for black men, too. Arthur Ashe felt that Gibson set the stage for his own later triumphs on the court.


On this day in 1957, Althea Gibson claimed the women’s singles tennis title at Wimbledon and became the first African American to win a championship at London’s All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Gibson also won the women’s doubles championship later in the day.

Althea Gibson, born in 1927 in South Carolina, grew up in the Harlem section of New York City. Gibson’s athletic ability set her apart from her peers, and she drew even more attention to herself when she won the Police Athletic League and Parks Department paddle tennis competitions. The recreation director and musician Buddy Walker recognized her talent, purchased rackets, and took her to the Harlem River Tennis Courts. Shortly thereafter, the noted Harlem Cosmopolitan Tennis Club took up a collection to provide Gibson with a membership and tennis lessons.

Gibson’s big break occurred when two African American physicians offered her a home, secondary schooling, tennis instruction, and the encouragement and financial support to realize her potential. Gibson lived with one of the families in Wilmington, North Carolina during the school year and spent the summer perfecting her tennis game on the other’s backyard tennis court in Lynchburg, Virginia. She went on to win the all-black American Tennis Association (ATA) women’s singles ten years in a row (1947 – 1956), establishing herself as the best black woman tennis player.

In 1950, while in her first year as a basketball and tennis scholarship student at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, she reached the finals before being defeated. But she was not invited to any national tournaments on segregated facilities until tennis champion Alice Marble declared in American Lawn Tennis magazine:

“[Gibson] is not being judged by the yardstick of ability but by the fact that her pigmentation is somewhat different.”

1950 – Althea Gibson and Alice Marble walking to the outer court at Forest Hills where Gibson’s first match was scheduled.

Largely owing to Marble’s influence, the invitations started coming in, and she entered Wimbledon in 1951, becoming the first African American to play there. She advanced to the quarterfinals before losing. Gibson’s tennis game continued to mature. In 1956, she won sixteen of the eighteen international tournaments in which she was a participant, one of which was a Grand Slam event, the French Open. With this win, Gibson became the first black person to win a major singles tennis title.

Althea Gibson defeated Darlene Hard in 1957 to win the first of her two consecutive Wimbledon titles

Seven years after breaking the color barrier in 1950, she established herself as champion by winning both Wimbledon and the U.S. championship in both 1957 and 1958. In 1959 she retired from amateur tennis, played exhibition tennis, appeared in movies, recorded an album, and published her biography, I Always Wanted to Be Somebody.

In 1964 at the age of 37 she became a professional golfer. Gibson was the first black woman to hold a Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) player’s card, thus breaking the color barrier in two of the most socially elite sports. She still battled racism, however. For example, the Beaumont Country Club in Texas agreed to let her play the course, but wouldn’t allow her to use the clubhouse or the bathrooms.

Althea Gibson could drive over 300 yards

Gibson married in 1965. In later years, she served as a professional tennis teacher and coach as well as the program director for a racquet club and athletic commissioner for the state of New Jersey. In 1994, Gibson suffered a stroke that left her confined to her home. She died in 2003 in her home city of East Orange, New Jersey.

Among Althea Gibson’s many honors were the Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year (1957 – 1958), National Tennis Hall of Fame (1971), Black Athletes Hall of Fame, International Tennis Hall of Fame (1971), and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame (1980). Gibson served as an inspiration for others such as Zina Garrison, Venus Williams, and Serena Williams. The way was paved for black men, too. Arthur Ashe felt that Gibson set the stage for his own later triumphs on the court.


What happened on this day

On this day, May 26, 1956, at Roland Garros, Althea Gibson became the first black athlete to triumph in a Grand Slam tournament. More than just a milestone, Gibson’s victory represented a new possibility: instantly she was a symbol of an African American woman’s ability to rise above racism and prejudice. She became —and still is — a beacon of hope for equality in society and in sport. Gibson had to face outright discrimination before she was even permitted to compete in major tennis events. Her success marked a big step in favor of desegregation in tennis. It was also the first of a total of five Grand Slam crowns earned by the first African American tennis star in only three years’ time.


Token Female

Althea Gibson, history's first African-American Wimbledon champion. She won in 1957 and 1958.

For the past decade, there have been only two names synonymous with winning American tennis. And those two names belong to African-American women:

Venus and Serena Williams

Have any two Americans since Chris Evert and Billie Jean King done more to revolutionize the pristine, often stuffy game? When I was playing tennis in the 70’s, the decorum of a tennis tournament was almost the same as Mass on Sunday. Quiet. Polite protestations if you disagreed with a call. Graciousness.

My local tennis pro, the late, great Nancy Dillon, a legend in the Oak Park-River Forest community, taught us all at the River Forest Park District to attack the net, to be aggressive. I don’t recall politeness as the key component of her game. She was the antithesis of what I saw on television. When I watched “Breakfast at Wimbledon,” and the US Open matches, I really don’t remember any knock-down, drag-out arguments with the judges on the women’s side of Wimbledon. Just the zany, boyish, loud antics of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, which actually made five-hour matches a treat to watch. Other than that, they were “Pong” games writ large in those days.

Slowly, the women’s tournament revolutionized with Martina Navratilova’s sheer physicality and iron will, Steffi Graf’s one-handed backhand, Monica Seles’ grunts. Slowly, the women’s game got louder and more boisterous. And, to the detriment of American women everywhere, dominated by Europeans. Lindsay Davenport, where are you?

The Williams sisters took their attacking, aggressive style of play that made Serena a Wimbledon champ Saturday morning on Centre Court for the fifth time, after taking Poland’s Agieszka (Aggie) Radwanska 6-1, 5-7, 6-2. Venus has struggled with Sjogren’s Syndome, a fatigue-related illness, which has cramped her later career, but still put the Williams sisters on the map when she won Wimbledon in 2000. Serena followed with her first Wimbledon title the next year.

The formidable Williams sisters with be united in the doubles final, looking for their fifth championship. In the semifinals, the Williams sisters struggled with their serves in the first set, but recovered to beat American duo Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond 2-6, 6-1, 6-2. Venus and Serena will be playing the Czech duo of Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka.

As Serena goes through an awfully long Saturday, it’s worth remembering that Venus and Serena Williams weren’t the only African-American players in all of the history of tennis. The late, and great Arthur Ashe, who died way too young of AIDS after contracting it from a blood transfusion, was a personal hero of mine. He made his name as the victor in the US Open in 1968 and Wimbledon in 1975, the first African-American male to break through the color line.

But even Ashe, as great as he was, wasn’t the first African American Wimbledon champion. I don’t know how many people remember the late Althea Gibson, the “Jackie Robinson” of women’s tennis, as she is sometimes called. She won Wimbledon in 1957 and 1958, in the middle of the Civil Rights era….post-Plessy vs. Ferguson of 1954, but pre-Civil Rights Act of 1965. Also, pre-Title IX. And a forgotten hero to the larger community.

Lord, how did she get there?

According to her website, altheagibson.com, Gibson was born in Silver, South Carolina on August 25, 1927. She grew up in a poor family in Harlem but caught the attention of a Lynchburg, Virginia doctor, Walter Johnson, who was active in the African American tennis community.

Dr. Johnson became Althea’s patron and was later known for mentoring Ashe. Through her connection with Johnson, Althea had access to better instruction and competitions. He also connected her to the United States Tennis Association (USTA), opening her up to the tennis scene. She started playing tennis at the Harlem Tennis Club in 1941, winning her first match in 1942 at the age of 15. Later on, she competed at Florida A&M University.

She was the first African American to be named as the Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in 1957. She was given that honor again the following year. When she won her second U.S. Championship, she went professional.

Gibson was the first African-American, male or female to win championships the French Open, the United States Open, the Australian Doubles and Wimbledon in the 1950s. Even though she was subject to the segregation that plagued African Americans at the time she trailblazed across the tennis scene.

In all, she won eleven major titles , including three straight doubles at the French Open in 1956, 1957 and 1958. She was winner of the French Open in 1956, Wimbledon in 1957 and 1958 and the U.S. Open in 1957 and 1958. At the end, she earned international acclaim for winning 56 doubles and singles.

Tennis was a very different game in the 󈧶’s. There was no prize money (Wimbledon champs now earn $1,000,000 on both the men’s and women’s tournaments). There were no endorsement deals, and no professional tours for women. Those came later, after the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the Virginia Slims and Lipton pro tours, and others were established in the 1970’s. And unlike Venus and Serena, no clothing lines or personal businesses to supplement their income.

However, they might well look to Gibson as a role model. Gibson was clearly an adventurer and unafraid to risk whatever she felt she had to offer the world. Right after she retired from tennis, she ventured into the entertainment world, releasing an album, “Althea Gibson Sings” in 1959, and appearing in a John Ford movie “The Horse Soldiers” the same year. In the movie, starring John Wayne, William Holden and future soap star Constance Towers, she played Lukey, the loyal maid to Ms. Towers.

There was one professional sports association available to women at that time….the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). Gibson decided after retiring from tennis in 1958 to become a golf pro. She became the LPGA’s first African-American member in 1964. Though she competed until 1970, according to Wikipedia sources, she “did not really establish herself on the pro golf tour and tried to play a few events after 1968 when open tennis started. By that time, she was in her 40s and was too old to beat the younger competition. When she stopped competing, she worked as a tennis instructor.”

Her 50’s brought new opportunities as she embarked on a career in public service. She became New Jersey’s State Commissioner on Athletics in 1975, and served in several other positions in the New Jersey legislature, including an appointment to the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness.

Married and divorced twice, she had no children.

Her later years brought ill health. Gibson suffered two cerebral hemorraghes and in 1992, a stroke. Broke, living on welfare and unable to pay for rent or medication, she reached out to former doubles partner Angela Buxton to say she was considering suicide. Buxton, according to Wikipedia sources, arranged for a letter to be published in a tennis magazine. The fundraising campaign brought in over $1 million dollars.

Gibson died of natural causes in September, 2003, after her circulatory system collapsed.

She is remembered around the world. Gibson has been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the New Jersey Hall of Fame. In Wilmington, North Carolina, the new tennis center there was named the Althea Gibson Sports Complex. And in 2012, a statue of Gibson was dedicated at a park in New Jersey.

The tennis center in North Carolina must be seen as particularly sweet revenge for Gibson, who once wryly observed that “Shaking hands with the Queen of England was a long way from being forced to sit in the colored section at the back of the bus in Wilmington, North Carolina”


Black tennis history

The rich history of black people and tennis in the United States goes back close to 110 years. It includes names such as Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, Zina Garrison, and Venus and Serena Williams. It also includes some little-known tidbits.

For Tennis Week, The Undefeated has combed through black tennis history to provide a timeline that proves when black folks step on the court, we&rsquore about that action.

The first interstate tournament for blacks is created by Rev. W.W. Walker. The Philadelphia event was won by Thomas Jefferson of Lincoln University.

Rev. W.W. Walker goes on to win the following year&rsquos tournament by defeating Henry Freeman of Washington, D.C.

Even with a change of scenery and playing on his opponent&rsquos home court, Rev. W.W. Walker manages to beat Howard University&rsquos Charles Cook.

Booker T. Washington&rsquos son, E. Davidson, and C.G. Kelly help create the first faculty tennis club at Tuskegee Institute.

The Chicago Prairie Tennis Club is formed by Mrs. Maude Lawrence, Madelyn Baptist McCall, Ruth Shockey and Mrs. C.O. &ldquoMother&rdquo Seames.

The seven women preparing to play in the New York State Negro Tennis Championships that took place at the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club in Harlem.

Harlem&rsquos Colonial Tennis Club, later known as the Cosmopolitan Club in Harlem, is founded.

Plans for national tennis organization for African-Americans are discussed by members of the Association Tennis Club in Washington, D.C., and the Monumental Tennis Club of Baltimore. The American Tennis Association (ATA) was founded on Thanksgiving Day in Washington, D.C., at a YMCA and H. Stanton McCard is elected as the organization&rsquos first leader.

By winning the ATA women&rsquos singles tournament, Lucy Diggs Slowe becomes the first African-American female national champion in any sport.

New York Tennis Association is founded.

The first private grounds for a black tennis club in the United States are built by &ldquoMother&rdquo Mary Ann Seames and her husband, who purchased property on the South Side of Chicago to build the four tennis courts.

Dwight Davis, the donor of the Davis Cup, serves as an umpire at ATA national semifinals.

The first black-owned-and-operated country club in the United States is founded by the Progressive Realty Group, a group of African-American businessmen who purchased and opened the Shady Rest Golf and Tennis Club in Scotch Plains, New Jersey.

The Springfield (Massachusetts) Tennis Club and New Jersey Tennis Association are created.

New England Tennis Association and St. Louis Tennis Association are formed.

Reginald Weir and Gerald Norman Jr. are denied entry into the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) Junior Indoor Championship because of their race, even after paying the entry fee. Support from the NAACP resulted in a formal grievance after Norman&rsquos father filed a complaint.

University of Illinois tennis player Douglas Turner is the runner-up in the Big Ten championships.

The Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) receive the Williams Trophy after it was donated by members of the Grand Central Station staff.

Jimmie McDaniels returns a shot during the New York State Negro Tennis Championships in 1940

On the anniversary of the ATA&rsquos Silver Jubilee, USLTA president Holcombe Ward extends his warmest regards to the organization &hellip without allowing a single person of color to participate in his league. In the letter, he states, &ldquoI extend most cordial greetings and sincere wishes for the success of the American Tennis Association in its further development, work and efforts to maintain the high standards of the game of tennis wherever played.&rdquo

Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American to participate in the U.S. Nationals. In the first round, she defeats Barbara Knapp, but would then fall to Louise Brough in the second round, 1-6, 6-3, 7-9. Before a thunderstorm descended on the court, Gibson was actually beating Brough. When the players came back the next day, Gibson lost three straight games and the match.

Victor Miller and Roosevelt Megginson become the first African-Americans to play in the USLTA Interscholastic Championships.

Two years after Miller and Megginson, Lorraine Williams wins the USLTA National Girls&rsquo 15 Singles, becoming the first African-American to win a USLTA national championship.

Althea Gibson walks through a cheering crowd while preparing to play in the 1957 Wimbledon Tournament.

Althea Gibson wins the French Championships women&rsquos singles tournament, becoming the first African-American to win a Grand Slam title. She also left the French Championships with the women&rsquos doubles title. Gibson&rsquos success continued into the women&rsquos doubles final at Wimbledon, as well, where she left London victorious.

Althea Gibson becomes the first black to win a major U.S. tennis championship when she defeats Darlene Hard in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3, to capture the U.S. Clay Court singles title in River Forest, Illinois. The match lasted only 47 minutes.

Later that year, Gibson wins the U.S. National Championships (now known as the US Open), becoming the first African-American to do so. Gibson was also the first African-American to play in the Australian Open championship, although she lost to Shirley Fry in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4. This would be the only Grand Slam championship she would not win in singles. However, Gibson would win the Australian Open women&rsquos doubles championship in 1957.

Gibson lost the U.S. National Championships women&rsquos doubles championship. That was the only doubles Grand Slam title she didn&rsquot win. She won the mixed doubles championship.

For her wins in the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. National Championships, Althea Gibson was named the Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year.

Althea Gibson repeats as both U.S. National and Wimbledon champion. For a third consecutive year, Gibson wins the women&rsquos doubles title match at Wimbledon. She also repeats as the AP Woman Athlete of the Year. It&rsquos during this year that she also announces her retirement from amateur tennis.

Bob Ryland breaks the color barrier for black men, participating in Jack Marsh&rsquos World Pro Championships in Cleveland and thus becoming the first African-American male tennis professional.

Arthur Ashe Jr. wins the National Indoor Junior Tennis Championship.

Arthur Ashe Jr. continues that momentum by repeating as the National Indoor Junior Tennis champion and also winning the USTA Interscholastic Singles Championship.

The Davis Cup team welcomes Arthur Ashe Jr., and he becomes the first African-American to make the unit. He wins the U.S. Hard Court Championships.

Playing in the U.S. Nationals at Forest Hills, New York, at age 15, Lenward Simpson becomes the youngest male to do so.

Arthur Ashe eyes up a shot while playing in the semifinals of the U.S. National Tennis Championships in 1965.

While attending UCLA, Arthur Ashe Jr. wins the NCAA singles championship and doubles championship with Ian Crookenden.

Arthur Ashe Jr. takes home the U.S. Clay Court Championship and the U.S. Indoor Doubles with teammate Charlie Pasarell.

Arthur Ashe Jr. becomes the first (and remains the only) black man to win the US Open. It was the first US Open in the Open era. That same year, Ashe defeated Davis Cup teammate Bob Lutz to win the U.S. Amateur Championships. To this day, he remains the only player to win the amateur and national championships in the same year.

Arthur Ashe Jr. becomes the first (and is still the only) black man to win the Australian Open.

Juan Farrow wins the U.S. Boys&rsquo 12 Singles Championship and also wins the doubles title with teammate Lawrence &ldquoChip&rdquo Hooper.

Arthur Ashe Jr. teams up with Marty Riessen to win the French Open men&rsquos doubles title.

That same year, Althea Gibson is elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Two years after winning his first U.S. Boys&rsquo 12 Singles title, Juan Farrow takes home his second championship in the U.S. Boys&rsquo 14 Singles.

In the National Public Parks Girls 16U Singles Championship, Diane Morrison comes out victorious.

Juan Farrow wins the National Boys Indoor 16 Singles Championship.

Lenward Simpson signs with the Detroit Loves and in the process becomes the first black player in World Team Tennis.

Arthur Ashe Jr. wins the Wimbledon men&rsquos singles title by defeating Jimmy Connors. In doing so, he becomes the first (and still the only) black man to win the event.

The NCAA Division II doubles are won by Hampton University&rsquos Bruce Foxworth and Roger Guedes. Hampton becomes the first historically black college or university to win the Division II title.

Andrea Whitmore wins the National Public Parks singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles. She is the first African-American to win a championship and only the second woman to win three major events in the tournament&rsquos 52-year history.

The U.S. Girls 14 Indoor Doubles is won by Kathy Foxworth and Lori Kosten.

Leslie Allen plays during the final match at the Avon Tennis Championship in 1980.

AP Photo/Richard Sheinwald

The U.S. Girls 16 Hard Court Doubles, U.S. Girls 18 Indoor Doubles, and the U.S. Girls 18 Clay Court Doubles are won by Houston duo Zina Garrison and Lori McNeil.

Leslie Allen is the first African-American woman to play in the main draw of a professional tournament in Open era history.

When Leslie Allen wins the Avon Championships of Detroit, she becomes the first black woman since Althea Gibson to win a major title.

Yannick Noah becomes the first black man to win the French Open when he defeats defending champion Mats Wilander, 6-2, 7-5, 7-6. The 23-year-old dropped only a single set during the tournament and became the first Frenchman to win the French Open singles championship since 1946. He is also the last Frenchman to win that event. The victory was his first and last Grand Slam singles title.

Camille Benjamin makes it to the French Open semifinals.

Lloyd Bourne, a two-time All-American at Stanford, reaches the round of 16 at the Australian Open.

Todd Nelson makes it to the round of 32 of the US Open.

Pepperdine University&rsquos Jerome Jones and Kelly Jones (no relation) win the NCAA doubles championship.

Lori McNeil and Zina Garrison face off in the Eckerd Tennis Open, which is the first time two black players meet in a major professional tennis championship. McNeil defeats Garrison, 2-6, 7-5, 6-2.

Northwestern University&rsquos Katrina Adams becomes the first African-American woman to win an NCAA doubles title, teaming with Diane Donnelly to beat Stanford&rsquos Patty Fendick and Stephanie Savides, 6-2, 6-4.

Zina Garrison and Pam Shriver win the Olympic gold medal for women&rsquos doubles in Seoul, South Korea. Garrison also takes home bronze in the women&rsquos singles tournament.

U.S. national team names MaliVai Washington to its squad.

Zina Garrison defeats Monica Seles, ending her 36-match winning streak, and then stuns Steffi Graf in the Wimbledon semifinals to advance to her first Grand Slam championship. Garrison would go on to lose to Martina Navratilova in the title bout, but by playing in the championship, Garrison becomes the first black woman to reach a Grand Slam final since Althea Gibson in 1958.

The USTA National Indoor 18 Singles is won by Mashona Washington.

MaliVai Washington serves during a first round match of the U.S. Open.

Photo by Simon Bruty/Getty Images

MaliVai Washington reaches the Wimbledon singles final, where he falls to Dutchman Richard Krajicek in straight sets. Washington becomes the first black man to reach the title game since Arthur Ashe Jr. During this year, Washington is named to the U.S. Olympic tennis team, becoming the first African-American to receive the honor.

Chanda Rubin and partner Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario win the Australian Open doubles title, and Rubin fights her way to the semifinals of the Australian Open, where she loses to eventual champion Monica Seles in three sets.

Venus Williams hits a 125 mph serve at Wimbledon, becoming the first woman to do so.

The Wimbledon and US Open mixed doubles championships are won by Serena Williams and Max Mirnyi.

The Australian Open and French Open mixed doubles finals are won by Venus Williams and Justin Gimelstob.

Steve Campbell reaches the Australian Open&rsquos round of 32.

Serena Williams becomes the first black woman to reach a Grand Slam singles championship since her sister Venus made the US Open final two years before and, in winning the US Open, becomes the first black woman since Althea Gibson to win a Grand Slam singles title.

Venus Williams (R) returns a ball during the Women&rsquos Doubles final match alongside her sister, Serena, at Wimbledon in 2000.

GERRY PENNY/AFP/Getty Images

Both the Wimbledon and US Open women&rsquos singles championships are won by Venus Williams.

Serena and Venus Williams win the Wimbledon women&rsquos doubles title and take home the gold in the Olympic women&rsquos doubles. Venus Williams captures gold in the women&rsquos singles championship too.

Sports Illustrated for Women honors Venus Williams with its Sportswoman of the Year accolade.

Serena Williams wins three of the four Grand Slam women&rsquos singles championships: French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.

She and Venus Williams team up to win the Wimbledon women&rsquos doubles title too. Serena and Venus Williams flip-flopped between No. 1 and No. 2 in the world. This is the first and only time in history that siblings have accomplished that feat.

Serena Williams accomplishes two major feats: The Serena Slam, by winning every Grand Slam singles title consecutively (though not in the same calendar year), and she also becomes the first black woman to win the Australian Open.

Scoville Jenkins, 18, wins the USTA National Open Hard Court title, becoming the first African-American to do so.

James Blake achieves the highest world ranking for a black man since Arthur Ashe Jr. in 1979. Blake&rsquos five ATP titles propel him to No. 4 in the world.

Venus and Serena Williams win their second women&rsquos doubles Olympic gold medal at the Beijing Summer Games.

Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga reaches the Australian Open final as an unseeded player, having defeated four seeded players to reach the championship. His ascent to the title match includes a straight-sets win over Rafael Nadal, the No. 2 player in the world, in the semifinals. Ultimately, Tsonga loses in four sets to world No. 3 Novak Djokovic. Tsonga&rsquos first-set victory was the only set Djokovic dropped the entire tournament. Tsonga became the second black man to reach the final and would&rsquove become the second to win the event (Arthur Ashe Jr.).

Tsonga was actually the first and one of only three players (Tomas Berdych and Stan Wawrinka) to garner Grand Slam victories against the Big Four: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal.

The Australian Open Girls Junior Singles title is won by Taylor Townsend.

At the London Olympics, Serena Williams captures her first gold medal in the women&rsquos singles event.

Madison Keys takes home her first WTA title.

Donald Young and Taylor Townsend reach the semifinals of the US Open mixed doubles.

Sloane Stephens wins her first Women&rsquos Tennis Association tour-level tournament in 84 tries, defeating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straight sets, 6-1, 6-2. The 22-year-old becomes the first African-American woman to win the Citi Open since the tournament started featuring women&rsquos events in 2011.

Katrina Adams becomes the first African-American, first former professional player and youngest person elected president of the United States Tennis Association.

Serena Williams waves to the crowd as she leaves the court with the Daphne Akhurst Trophy after defeating her sister Venus during the Austrialian Open.

Scott Barbour/Getty Images

With her win at the Australian Open this January, Serena Williams sets the record for most Grand Slam wins (23) by a tennis player in the Open era. She is now only one behind Margaret Court, who holds the all-time record (24).

Michigan&rsquos Brienne Minor becomes the first black woman to win the NCAA&rsquos Division I singles championship, defeating Florida&rsquos Belinda Woolcock, 3-6. 6-3, 6-3, to become the first African-American to win an NCAA tennis singles championship since Arthur Ashe Jr. in 1965.


Making history

Gibson's success at those ATA tournaments paved the way for her to attend Florida A&M University on a sports scholarship. She graduated from the school in 1953, but it was a struggle for her to get by.

At one point, she even thought of leaving sports altogether to join the U.S. Army. A good deal of her frustration had to do with the fact that so much of the tennis world was closed off to her. The white-dominated, white-managed sport was segregated in the United States, as was the world around it.

The breaking point came in 1950, when Alice Marble, a former tennis No. 1 herself, wrote a piece in American Lawn Tennis magazine lambasting her sport for denying a player of Gibson's caliber to compete in the world's best tournaments.

Marble's article caught notice, and by 1952 &mdash just one year after becoming the first Black player to compete at Wimbledon &mdash Gibson was a Top 10 player in the United States. She went on to climb even higher, to No. 7 by 1953.

In 1955, Gibson and her game were sponsored by the United States Lawn Tennis Association, which sent her around the world on a State Department tour that saw her compete in places like India, Pakistan and Burma.

Measuring 5 feet, 11 inches, and possessing superb power and athletic skill, Gibson seemed destined for bigger victories. In 1956, it all came together when she won the French Open.

Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles followed in both 1957 and 1958. (She won both the women's singles and doubles at Wimbledon in 1957, which was celebrated by a ticker-tape parade when she returned home to New York City.) In all, Gibson powered her way to 56 singles and doubles championships before turning pro in 1959.

For her part, however, Gibson downplayed her pioneering role.

"I have never regarded myself as a crusader," she states in her 1958 autobiography, "I Always Wanted to Be Somebody."

"I don't consciously beat the drums for any cause, not even the negro in the United States."


July 6, 1957: 10 Black Athletic “Firsts” (Althea Gibson Wins Wimbledon)

On July 6, 1957, women’s tennis star Althea Gibson of Harlem, New York (born in South Carolina) became the first ever person of African ancestry to win the prestigious Wimbledon tennis tournament in England. Today we list 10 such achievements by Black (African heritage) athletes of a notable nature. (There is no importance to the order listed.)

Digging Deeper

1. 1 st Wimbledon Champion, Althea Gibson, 1957.

Not only did Althea achieve this notable “first,” but she also had become the first Black tennis player to win a “Grand Slam” event by winning the 1956 French Open as well. Top that with being the first person “of color” to have won the US Nationals (that would become the US Open) in 1957, and winning Wimbledon and the US Nationals again in 1958! Gibson compiled 11 Grand Slam wins (6 doubles), was the AP Female Athlete of the Year in 1957 and 1958, and of course, is in the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. Achieving these firsts is all the more impressive when you consider the 1950’s was still the era of segregation and rampant racism. Plus, it would not be until Evonne Goolagong (Australian Aborigine) would become the next woman of color to win a Grand Slam event in 1971! It would be another 42 years from Gibson’s victory at Wimbledon for another African American woman to win at Wimbledon, when Serena Williams won the event in 1999 (and would go on to win 5 more at Wimbledon as of 2017).

2. 1 st Sisters to Dominate Tennis, Williams Sisters, 2002.

Venus and Serena Williams are two of the greatest tennis players of all time, not just women and not just African American! Both have been ranked #1 in the World (a first for sisters), and Serena has won an incredible 72 singles tournaments, while Venus has triumphed in 49. Between the girls they have 18 Grand Slam wins, and have been an incredible doubles team, winning 3 Olympic Gold Medals and 14 Grand Slam doubles titles to go with 22 other doubles wins. Venus was #1 for 11 weeks, while Serena had a run of 319 weeks at the top! In 2002-2003 they became the only women to play each other in the final of 4 Grand Slam events in a row. (We used 2002 as the year because that was the first year both were ranked #1.)

3. 1 st to Win Men’s Grand Slam Tennis Event, Arthur Ashe, 1968.

This Virginian born in 1943 was raised by his father when his mom died at the age of 27. Young Arthur was discovered and mentored by the same coach that coached Althea Gibson. Barred from playing against White kids while growing up, Ashe developed into a player that would win 3 Grand Slam titles and become #1 in the world in 1968, the first African American man to do so. Ashe was the first African American man placed on the US Davis Cup team, and remains the only Black man to have won the French Open, Australian Open, and Wimbledon championships. Of course, he is in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, he died of AIDS at the age of 49, contracted from a blood transfusion during surgery. Ashe was active in the Civil Rights Movement and was an advocate for young African Americans to seek higher education.

4. 1 st Major League Baseball Manager, Frank Robinson, 1975.

A superb player, Robinson had won the batting Triple Crown in 1966 playing for the Orioles, leading the league in homers, RBI’s and batting average. The Cleveland Indians made history when they made Robinson the first African American to lead a major sports franchise as manager or head coach. Frank also has a “first” of any race, that of winning the MVP award in both the National and American Leagues as a baseball player. When he retired he ranked #4 all time on the home run list and obviously is in the Hall of Fame. He went on to manage 3 other major league teams. In his rookie season (1956) he set the major league record for home runs by a rookie (38), later broken by Mark McGwire. He was the 1966 Hickock Belt winner as the best professional athlete in the world that year.

5. 1 st Black Player in the American League, Larry Doby, 1947.

Just 3 months after Jackie Robinson broke the “color barrier” in major league baseball, Doby joined the Cleveland Indians. In 1948, Doby along with Satchel Paige became the first African American players to win a World Series title, and Doby became the first Black player to hit a World Series home run. Doby led the league in homers in 1952 and 1954, and led the league in RBI’s in 1954. He was a 7 time All-Star and in 1998 was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Doby served as manager of the Chicago White Sox in 1978.

6. 1 st Hickock Belt winner, Willie Mays, 1954.

The ‘Say hey’ kid as he was called, is considered by many to be the best all-around baseball player of all time. Mays won a record (tied) 12 Gold Glove Awards (they were created in 1957, or he may have won more) and was a 2 time MVP, as well as playing in 24 All-Star Games, a record he shares with Hank Aaron and Stan Musial. Mays was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1978, his first year of eligibility, and was selected as the greatest athlete in the world for the year of 1954 by being presented the Hickock Belt, the first man of African ancestry to earn the award.

7. 1 st Major Leaguer to Steal 100 Bases in a Season, Maury Wills, 1962.

Maury Wills broke the coveted major league season stolen base record of 96, set by Ty Cobb back in 1915, when Maury stole 104 bases during the 1962 season for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Wills had an excellent major league career, with leading the league in stolen bases 6 consecutive years, earning an MVP award, earning an All-Star Game MVP award, playing in 7 All-Star Games (in 5 seasons), winning 2 Gold Gloves, leading the league in triples (once) and leading the league in singles 4 times. He remains the Dodgers all-time leader in stolen bases and single season at bats (695 in 1962). Wills also was awarded the Hickock Belt in 1962, but curiously is not in the Hall of Fame. Wills’ son, Bump Wills, was a major league baseball manager.

8. 1 st Quarterback to Win Super Bowl, Doug Williams, 1988.

Williams played college football at Grambling State and earned a degree in education before becoming a pro football player in the NFL in 1978. Doug switched to the USFL for the 1984 season and led that league in passing, and then did considerably better during the 1985 season. In 1986, it was back to the NFL, and in the 1987 season Williams was the #2 quarterback for the Washington Redskins. At the end of the 1987 season Williams was chosen to start in Super Bowl XXII on January 31, 1988 against the Denver Broncos. Williams led the ‘Skins to a 42-10 victory and earned the game’s MVP award, becoming the first African American quarterback to lead his team to a Super Bowl victory. Williams is in the College Football Hall of Fame.

9. 1 st African American Individual Champion in Any Sport, Marshall Taylor, 1899.

Nicknamed “Major,” Taylor won the World Championship in the Sprint event at the Track Cycling Championships held in Montreal in 1899. Taylor held many world records and was only the second Black male athlete to win a World Championship in any sport, second to Canadian George Dixon who won the Bantam Weight Boxing Championship in 1888. (Dixon also won the Feather Weight title in 1890.)

10. 1 st Black Woman to Win Olympic Gold Medal, Alice Coachman, 1948.

Born into poverty in 1923 in Albany, Georgia, Alice faced discrimination in her efforts to become an athlete both for being female and for being African American. She went to the Tuskegee Preparatory School and then the Tuskegee Institute (graduating with a degree in dressmaking in 1946), but made her mark on history when she became the Women’s Running High Jump Olympic Gold Medalist at the 1948 Olympic Games in London. Not a one trick pony so to speak, Alice won the US AAU National Championship in the High Jump 10 years in a row (!) from 1939 to 1948, but also won National Championships in the 50 meter and 100 meter dashes, as well as the 400 meter relay. She also played on the 3 time conference winning basketball team at Tuskegee. Her winning Olympic high jump was 5’6 ½”. On retiring from Track, Alice worked as an educator and for the Job Corps. She died in 2014 at the age of 90.

Question for students (and subscribers): What other achievements would you add to the list? There are so many to pick from! Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

If you liked this article and would like to receive notification of new articles, please feel welcome to subscribe to History and Headlines by liking us on Facebook and becoming one of our patrons!


Watch the video: Althea Gibsons 1957 Wimbledon Win - Decades TV Network