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Gibson, Althea (1927-2003)


Image Owneship: Public Domain

Althea Gibson, a sharecropper’s daughter from Silver, South Carolina, entered the world of sports when segregation severely limited opportunities for African Americans.  In 1930, Althea and her parents moved to Harlem in New York. There she became part of a vibrant community which helped to nurture her talents.  She played community sports and eventually met mentors who would change her life.

Dr. Walter Johnson, a physician from Virginia and a dynamic member of the black tennis community became both a mentor and patron.  He supported Althea as she distinguished herself as an incredible player, winning the American Tennis Association (ATA) tournaments, the all-black association, ten consecutive years.  In 1950, she became the first African American permitted to compete in the Forest Hill (N.Y.) National Grass Court Championship.

A Florida Agricultural & Mechanical (FAMU) graduate, Gibson was the first African American woman named Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press, an award she received twice, and she was the first African American to win championships at Grand Slam tournaments (the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon (in the United Kingdom), and the U.S. Open).  She was inducted into the South Carolina, Florida, and New Jersey Sports Halls of Fame, the International Women’s Sports Halls of Fame, and the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She was also among Sports Illustrated’s Top 100 Greatest Female Athletes. On September 28, 2003 in East Orange, New Jersey, Althea Gibson died, passing her torch to another generation of talented athletes.

Sources:; Frances Clayton Gray and Yanick Rice Lamb, Born to Win: The Authorized Biography of Althea Gibson (Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004).


University of Kansas

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