Black HERstory: Althea Gibson

Althea Gibson (b. August 25, 1927 – d. September 28, 2003)

Today’s feature is tennis player and pro golfer Althea Gibson. Gibson became the first African-American woman to be a competitor on the world tennis tour and the first to win a Grand Slam title in 1956. A precursor to Venus & Serena Williams, she is sometimes referred to as “the Jackie Robinson of tennis” for breaking the “color barrier.”

“Gibson was ranked in the world top ten from 1956 through 1958, reaching a career high of World No. 1 in those rankings in 1957 and 1958. Gibson was included in the year-end top ten rankings issued by the United States Tennis Association in 1952 and 1953 and from 1955 through 1958. She was the top ranked U.S. player in 1957 and 1958.”

In retirement, Gibson wrote her autobiography and in 1959 recorded an album, Althea Gibson Sings. In 1964, she became the first African-American woman to play in the Ladies Professional Golf Association. Gibson retired from professional golf at the end of the 1978 season.

“Tennis players made no money in the 1950s, and Gibson’s finances worsened over the years. In 1992, she suffered a stroke. A few years later, Gibson called Buxton and told her she was on the brink of suicide. Gibson was living on welfare and unable to pay for rent or medication. Buxton arranged for a letter to appear in a tennis magazine. Buxton told Gibson nothing about the letter, but Gibson figured it out when her mailbox started to bulge with envelopes full of checks from around the world. In total, nearly US$1 million came in.”

Althea came to pass in 2003 but it’s good to know that she lived far longer than she would have had people not remembered what Gibson meant to tennis and all that she gave to the sport. She was a competitor, a pioneer and her legacy should never be forgotten; especially by those looking to blaze trails of their own.

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