Althea Gibson

From Academic Kids

Althea Gibson (August 25, 1927 - September 28, 2003) was an American sportswoman who became the first African-American woman to be a competitor on the world tennis tour on August 22, 1950. She is sometimes referred to as "the Jackie Robinson of tennis" for breaking the "color barrier".

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Althea Gibson


Born in Silver, South Carolina, Gibson was raised in Harlem, New York, where she excelled in tennis, but also competed in golf and basketball. With the assistance of a sponsor, in 1946 she moved to Wilmington, North Carolina for tennis training and in 1947, at age 15, she won the first of ten straight black national championships run by the American Tennis Association, the then governing body for black tournaments. Forced to play in what was basically a segregated sport, at age twenty-three Gibson was finally given the opportunity to participate in the 1950 US Open at Forest Hills, New York.

She continued to improve her tennis game while pursuing an education. In 1953, she graduated from Florida A&M University on a tennis and basketball scholarship, and moved to Jefferson City, Missouri to work as an athletic instructor at Lincoln University. With the color barrier broken, she was able to compete against the best and her game improved to where she won the 1955 Italian Open. The following year, she won her first of the 4 Grand Slam events in Paris, capturing the French Open singles and doubles titles. She followed this up by becoming the first black person to win a Wimbledon Championship, capturing the doubles title with Englishwoman, Angela Buxton. At the US Open that year she made it to the singles finals but lost to Shirley Fry.

In 1957, she lost the finals of the Australian Open, again to Shirley Fry, but the two teamed up to capture the Doubles title. At Wimbledon, Gibson won her first of two straight singles championships and back home in the United States, was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City and an official welcome at City Hall. She responded by winning the US Open. For her performance that year, Gibson earned the No. 1 ranking in the world and was named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year award.

In 1958, after defending her Wimbledon singles title and winning her third consecutive Wimbledon doubles championship, she repeated as the US Open singles champion. Once again, she earned the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year award. That year Althea Gibson retired from what was then still called amateur tennis. In the pre-open era there was no prize money other than an expense allowance and no endorsement deals. As such, tennis players had to give up their amateur status in order to earn some money. However, at the time there was no pro tour for women, so Gibson was limited to playing in a series of exhibition tours.

In retirement, she wrote her autobiography and in 1959 recorded an album, Althea Gibson Sings, plus appeared in the motion picture, The Horse Soldiers. In 1964, she also became the first African-American woman to play in the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). However, she was too old to be successful and only played for a few years.

In 1971, Althea Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and in 1975 she was appointed the New Jersey state commissioner of athletics. After ten years on the job, she went on to work in other public service positions including serving on the governor's council on physical fitness. In later years, she suffered two cerebral aneurysms and a stroke.

Althea Gibson passed away in East Orange, New Jersey from respiratory failure at the age of 76 and was interred there in the Rosedale Cemetery.

Grand Slam Titles


  • French Open : (1956)
  • Wimbledon : (1957, 1958)
  • US Open : (1957, 1958)


  • Australian (1957)
  • French Open : (1956)
  • Wimbledon : (1956, 1957, 1958)

Mixed Doubles

  • US Open : (1957)

See also

External links

nl:Althea Gibson


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