Althea Gibson: Tennis Star

Fred Palumbo at The Library of Congress

Althea Gibson sometime in 1956.

Jordan Arseneault '25

Althea Gibson was born on August 25th, 1927 in South Carolina. Her family moved to Harlem in New York City when she was young. Her family was very poor and they faced many struggles during this time. Growing up Althea Gibson liked sports, especially paddle tennis. She played very well and was recognized by Buddy Walker who invited her to play on local courts. She won many tournaments in her area and was brought into the Harlem River Tennis Courts in 1941. After a year she won a tournament in the American Tennis Association or the ATA, an African American organization that helps promote tournaments for black players. She won ATA titles in 1944 and 1945 and after losing in 1946 she went on to win 10 championships in a row from 1947 to 1956. She was the first African American tennis player to compete at the U.S. National Championships in 1950 and Wimbledon in 1951.

Her wins in the ATA helped her attend Florida A&M University with a sports scholarship. She graduated in 1953. After graduation, she struggled because of how limited sports were for her. In 1955, Althea Gibson was sponsored by the United States Lawn Tennis Association. She went on a State Department tour which allowed her to compete in India, Pakistan, and Burma. In 1956, she won the French Open. She won both women’s singles and doubles at Wimbledon in 1957.  In 1971, Althea Gibson retired and was brought into the International Hall of Fame. Although she retired, she still stayed connected to sports through many different positions. In 1975, she worked as a commissioner of athletics for New Jersey State for ten years. Her last years were also a struggle as she suffered from a decline in health. She had a stroke which caused her to develop heart problems. On September 28th, 2003 she died of respiratory failure in East Orange, New Jersey.



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