Althea Gibson, Tennis Champion

Logan Lovell, Copy Editor/Reporter

Breaker of the gender and ethnicity boundaries in tennis, Althea Gibson
Breaker of the gender and ethnicity boundaries in tennis, Althea Gibson

Professional golfer and tennis player, and the first African American to enter the world of international tennis, Grand Slam winner Althea Gibson is today’s famous figure in history.

On August 25, 1927, Althea Gibson was born in South Carolina. Her family moved to Harlem shortly after the beginning of the Great Depression, and it was there that she started playing paddle tennis- a version where the net is lower, there are no double lines, and a person plays with a paddle instead of a racket. She later became the New York women’s paddle tennis champion at the age of twelve. At the age of fourteen, she entered the American Tennis Association’s New York State Championship, and won. She went on to be the champion in the girl’s division of the national championship for two years in a row, in 1944 and 1945. After losing the 1946 championship. she won ten titles in a row.

By 1958, she had won eleven Gram Slams and 56 titles, both international and national, as well as single and double, and retired from amateur tennis. At the time, she couldn’t go on professional tours, and no prize money was given for the winners of major tournaments, and mainly only played on promotional matches. She was pursuing  entertainment at the time, and went onto professional singing in 1957. She also appeared in advertisements, as well as making a guest appearance on a television show called What’s My Line?, and was in the movie The Horse Soldiers as a slave. She became the first African-American woman to join the Ladies Professional Golf Association, but retired from the sport in 1978, and her lifetime earnings didn’t exceed $25,000. She suffered from a stroke in 1992, and survived a heart attack in early 2003, but died on September 28 of the same year due to complications from bladder and respiratory infections. For fifteen years after Gibson won her last Grand Slam before another African American woman won the competition.