Let’s start Women’s History Month off right!
Before Serena stepped on the Wimbledon stage serving grand slams left and right, there was Althea Gibson. Ms. Gibson was born August 25, 1927 in South Carolina to an impoverished family. She lived in Harlem from the 1930s-1940s. In order to stay out of trouble, she played table tennis and became a household name. Musician Buddy Walker noticed her talents and felt the need for her to excel so he brought her to the Harlem River Tennis Courts to advance her tennis skills.
Gibson went on to win several tournaments in New York sponsored by the American Tennis Association (ATA), which was an all black organization that provided tournament opportunities not available to African American tennis players. She won the ATA women’s single tournament ten years in a row. However, tournaments outside of ATA remained closed to her until 1950. Later that year, she became the first African American of either sex to be allowed to enter the Forest Hills, New York National Grass Courtship. She then went on to attend Florida A&M University and graduated in 1953.
Gibson became the first African American invited to enter the all-England tournament at Wimbledon in 1951. Additionally, in 1956 she won the French open; within the same year toured the world as a member of a national tennis team supported by the U.S. State Department.
In 1957 she won singles and doubles at Wimbledon. The following year she repeated her wins at Wimbledon and the Forest Hills women’s single. In 1959 she turned pro, winning the women’s singles professionals title in 1960. She also began playing professional women’s golf.
She is beyond phenomenal, below are even more of her honors:
- 1971 National Lawn Tennis Hall of Fame
- 1971 National Tennis Hall of Fame
- 1974 Black Athletes Hall of Fame
- 1983 South Carolina Hall of Fame
- 1984 Florida Sports Hall of Fame
Althea Gibson’s achievements were groundbreaking, as the first African American to play in national and international tennis tournaments when prejudice and racism were more prevalent in society and sports.
She deserves a round of applause for the accomplishments that she has made. Her actions paved the way for others such as Arthur Ashe, Venus and Serena Williams and others to follow.