Althea Gibson

Feb. 13, 2005, midnight | By Danielle Foster | 17 years, 9 months ago

Althea Gibson was born on Aug. 25, 1927 and raised in Harlem, New York. As she grew older, Gibson hated school more and more and eventually quit high school against her father's wishes. Soon, she began competing in girls' tennis tournaments supported by the mostly black American Tennis Association. At the age of 19, Gibson met Hubert Eaton of North Carolina and Robert Johnson of Virginia, two doctors involved in the black tennis community. Following the advice of future boxing champ Sugar Ray Robinson and his wife, Gibson moved to the South staying at the homes of both doctors' families. The two men helped her improve in tennis and in schooling and encouraged her to return to high school for her last three years and graduate, which she did in 1949.

After achieving her diploma, Gibson set out to pursue a career in tennis. In 1950, Gibson became the first black permitted to play tennis at the U.S. National Championships. Six years later, she became the first black to win the French championships. In 1957, she continued to make history by becoming the first black to win the Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals. Once was not sufficient, however, and Gibson won the same two tournaments the following year.

While Gibson broke color barriers on the courts, she still endured racism as did Jackie Robinson, who played in the major leagues in 1947. Gibson was often refused hotel rooms, and one hotel even refused to accept reservations for a banquet being held in her honor.

The disrespect some showed to Gibson was usually overshadowed, however, by unprecedented honors. In both 1957 and 1958, she was the first African American to be voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press. Gibson also earned 56 singles and doubles titles before going professional. During the 1950s alone, she won 11 major titles and blazed a trail for others, such as Arthur Ashe, throughout her career.

Gibson, an athletic pioneer, died at the age of 76 on Sept. 28, 2003.

Information has been compiled from the Althea Gibson Foundation web site and the ESPN web site.

Last updated: May 4, 2021, 11:12 a.m.

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