With Serena Williams making another splash at the US Tennis Open this year, I want to shed light on another inspiring female of the sport. Althea Gibson was a pioneer for women of color in the tennis world.
Raised in Harlem, NY in the 1940's she was often found skipping school to play basketball at the local court or entering tournaments for table tennis. Eventually she became known for her skills at the tennis table and a local musician, Buddy Walker, who saw Althea compete, recognized her natural talent and introduced her to regular tennis. Thanks to her inherent athletic talents, she picked up the game rather quickly.
With in a year she became dominant in the African American league and won 2 champion titles. She continued dominating that circuit, wining 10 straight ATA titles in a row. Unfortunately, due to discrimination against blacks at the time she was held back from showing her full potential in many major tournaments.
Even though she had more than proven her athletic competence in the sport, she was denied entrance into the US Nationals. However, famous female tennis player, Alice Marble, wrote a highly criticizing letter published in Amercian Lawn Tennis magazine about the injustice of not allowing Gibson to compete; she wrote, "If Althea Gibson represents a challenge to the present crop of players, then it's only fair that they meet this challenge on the courts."
Shortly thereafter, in 1950, Althea Gibson became the first African American player invited to compete in the US Nationals. One reporter, Lester Rodney, of the time wrote of the historical event, "No Negro player, man or woman, has ever set foot on one of these courts. In many ways, it is even a tougher personal Jim Crow-busting assignment than was Jackie Robinson's when he first stepped out of the Brooklyn Dodgers dugout."
Although she didn't win that first year at Nationals. She went on to win the French Championships, titles in several countries including: Italy, the Pacific Southwest, New South Wales, Pan American, South Australian and the Asian title in Ceylon.
It was in 1957 in which she truly shined. Winning Wimbledon and being given the trophy personally by Queen Elizabeth was a crowing achievement in her life. She also became the first person of color to win a Grand Slam and was voted female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press. Despite the fact that the club houses which were catering the events in her honor wouldn't allow her into the clubs, this injustice didn't stop her from continuing to pursue her talents on the court. Billie Jean King, a female tennis player who followed Gibson, once said of her, "Her road to success was a challenging one, but I never saw her back down to anyone, she was an inspiration, because of what she was able to do at a time when it was enormously difficult to play tennis at all if you were black."
Althea paved the way for many female athletes of all colors. Her love for competition and resilience to the non sense of her day allowed her to break barriers and set records. She is an impressive woman with a true champion heart. We know that it is because of the examples of women like her and Serena Williams that girls today see what determination and hard work can bring you. There are no barriers we can't break.
Click the picture to shop the Althea little girl romper.