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Althea Gibson: The First Black Female Tennis Player

Oct 04, 2022 11:00AM ● By Minna Davies

From humble beginnings in the Jim Crow south to international tennis stardom, the life of Althea Gibson was nothing short of extraordinary. As an incredible athlete and trailblazer, Gibson was the first African American to win a Grand Slam tennis title who went on to win 11 more. She was also a world-class golfer, and a professional baseball player for a short time.

Gibson was born in South Carolina in 1927, and grew up in Harlem, New York. She started playing tennis as a child, and quickly developed into a top-level player. In 1950, she won the first of her two US Championships titles.

Image source: Getty Image

In 1956, Gibson made history by becoming the first African American to win Wimbledon. She followed that up with victories at the French Open and US Open later that year. She retired from tennis in 1958, but continued to play golf and baseball professionally.

Gibson passed away in 2003, but her legacy continues on. She was an immensely talented athlete, and a true pioneer in the world of sports.

Althea Gibson was born on August 25, 1927, in Silver, South Carolina. Her parents were sharecroppers, and she was one of nine children. When she was six years old, her family moved to Harlem, New York.

Image source: Getty Image

Harlem was a tough neighborhood, and Gibson had to fight to survive. She learned to play tennis on the public courts of Harlem, and quickly developed into a top-notch player. In 1943, she won her first tournament, the American Tennis Association's New York State Championship.

Gibson began to turn heads in the tennis world with her powerful serve and aggressive style of play. In 1950, she became the first Black player to be invited to compete at Wimbledon. She lost her first match there, but went on to win the French Open in 1956 and 1957.

In 1958, Gibson made history again by becoming the first Black player to win a Grand Slam title when she triumphed at Wimbledon. She retired from tennis in 1958, but remained active in sports as an administrator and coach. 

As one of the most successful professional athletes of her time, Gibson was a world-renowned tennis player and the first African American woman to win a Grand Slam title. In addition to her success on the court, she was also an accomplished golfer, becoming the first Black woman to join the Ladies Professional Golf Association. Gibson retired from tennis in 1958 but later became a professional golfer joining the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour. She was also the first African American to play in the Ladies British Open Amateur Championship.

Image source: Getty Image

Throughout her career, Gibson faced discrimination and racism, but she always persevered. She was a true pioneer in the world of sports and inspired other Black athletes to pursue their dreams. After retiring from competition, she devoted her time to helping others, working with inner city youth and promoting racial equality.

In 1964, she was named an honorary member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and in 1965 she received the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP. In 1966, she made her acting debut on an episode of the TV show "I Spy".

In 1968, Gibson published her autobiography, "The Gibson Girl", which was well-received. She continued to play golf and make occasional TV appearances until her death in 2003 at the age of 76.

Althea Gibson is remembered as a groundbreaking athlete who paved the way for future generations of Black tennis players. She was the first African American to win a Grand Slam title, and her success on the court helped to break down racial barriers in tennis and in society at large. Today, her legacy continues to inspire young athletes of all backgrounds to pursue their dreams.

Image source: Getty Image

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 Minna Davies is a creative writer and a thespian with a degree in theatre arts from the University of Lagos.  He has been privileged to have some of his works featured on Nigeria's big stages.  It is important to dream, but if no one gets to see it, it is as good as dead. 

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