"Most of us who aspire to be tops in our fields don't really consider the amount of work required to stay tops.”1 – Althea Gibson
Althea Gibson (1927-2003), a champion athlete, overcame racial barriers as the first African-American to play in and win national and world tennis tournaments, and the first African-American to join the Ladies Professional Golf Association. Her achievements paved the way for African-American athletes from Arthur Ashe to Venus and Serena Williams.
Born in Silver, South Carolina, Gibson grew up in Harlem and began winning African American girls’ tennis tournaments at the age of 15. Three years later she returned to the segregated South, supported and coached by benefactors who had seen her play. It would not have been possible for Gibson to pay travel and tournament expenses in her early years without the financial support of enthusiastic communities and individuals inspired by her talent. In 1947, Gibson’s repeated victories in the American Tennis Association’s national singles competition helped her gradually overcome the resistance of the exclusive world of white tennis, where she became the first African-American to play at the U.S. Open (1950) and at Wimbledon (1951), and to win at the French Open (1956). Discrimination continued on and off the court, but Gibson remained undeterred. In 1957 and 1958 she won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, on the way to 11 grand slam titles between 1956 and 1958. In 1971 she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Despite earning acclaim as the world’s top women’s tennis player, Gibson found few financial opportunities in professional tennis or in professional golf, which she played throughout the 60s and 70s. In her later career she recorded an album, played a small role in a John Wayne film and toured with the Harlem Globetrotters. She served the state of New Jersey in athletics and recreation offices until the early 90s. Gibson eventually retreated from public life and battled illness until her death in 2003. Since 1998, the Althea Gibson Foundation has continued her legacy by supporting young tennis and golf players from urban areas.
Image from: http://www.altheagibson.com/