August 25,1927 to September 28, 2003
Althea Gibson was a resilient trailblazer, pioneer and visionary. She made history as the First African American Tennis Player to compete at the Us National Championships. She broke again the race barrier when she entered the world of women’s golf and became the First African Women on the Women’s Professional Golf Association.
Althea was born in Silver City, South Carolina on Thursday August 25, 1927 to Daniel and Annie Bell Gibson. The family relocated to Harlem, NY during the Great Depression era. Her family life was met with hardships being in a dysfunctional family on welfare government system. She faced a lot of racism during that time period in time. She did attend school but had emotional issues due to the environment she immediately lived in. She would miss out on classes. She wanted more in life and fell in love with sports and would play and win in many tournaments such as table tennis, ECT which she was very excellent at. She also won games sponsored by the Police Athletic Leagues and the Parks Department.
She picked up tennis being that she had a great swing and would practice at night at the court houses in order to have a strong swing. By the age of 15 she won the women’s single for the Tennis Association Union Association that was founded in 1916 for blacks due to the fact the actual pro games were segregated and blacks were forbidden to play that sport. She maintained her winning streak for 10 years unsurpassed to date.
In 1950 she was finally let into pro tennis matches Alice Marble. Althea entered the Forest Hills, New York, national grass court championship, the first African American player of either sex to be allowed to enter and made History. Althea won the match. But was still treated as before blacks were not allowed to go in from the front door they could only enter through the back door and were not allowed to assemble with the other players in the locker room. She would basically come in and leave through the back after winning her matches.
A quote from the article Alice spoke in and was published regarding Althea:
Alice Marble wrote an article in American Lawn Tennis magazine, noting that this excellent player was not able to participate in the better-known championships, for no reason other than “bigotry.”
She became the first African American invited to enter the all-England tournament at Wimbledon, playing there in 1951. She entered other tournaments, though at first winning only minor titles outside the ATA. In 1956, she made international history winning the singles match on the red clay and also teamed up with Angela Buckston for doubles she won the French Open. In the same year, she toured worldwide as a member of a national tennis team supported by the U.S. State Department she had tournament matches in Pakistan, India, and Burma.
From 1957 to 1958 she was ranged as the number one tennis player in the world and won the wimbleton U.S. National Singles title for both years. She made the announcement in 1958 that she was retiring.
After her retirement she earned a living playing exhibition tennis matches before the Harlem Globe Trotters games and also wrote and auto biography titled “Always Wanted To Be Somebody”.
She also entered in the world of women’s golf which she was again triumphant in. She was given membership into the Women’s Professional Golf Association.
In 1971 Althea was inducted in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She served as New Jersey athletics commissioner for 10 years. Althea later suffered from very serious health issues which led to a stroke, and also struggled financially due to hospital bills. Through Bille Jean King fund-raising that helped ease that some of the burden. Althea died on Sunday, September 28, 2003, from respiratory failure. Following her resilient triumphs and her groundbreaking barrier breaking many followed in her footsteps such as Arthur Ashe who was unmatched but passed away due to immune illness, Venus, and Serena Williams who also has set a mark in history.
Althea Gibson’s a young girl from a dysfunctional family on government welfare program unmatched achievement was historical in the entire world and still to date is. The ground breaking that she was chosen for by life has built a broad bridge to cross and be safe at the same time, as the first African American of either sex to break the color bar in national and international tournament tennis at a time when prejudice and racism were not hidden in the media or in sports arenas.