Althea Gibson won over fifty titles in her professional career, but her legacy was cemented by breaking the color barrier in the world of tennis. Born in rural South Carolina, Gibson battled racism her entire life, but her determination and resiliency led to a brilliant athletic career that paved the way for African-American players.
“If it hadn’t been for her, it wouldn’t have been so easy for Arthur Ashe or the ones who followed,” Billie Jean King told ESPN.com
Nothing came easy for Gibson. She faced hurdles in tennis and society, often being denied entry to hotels and bathrooms because of her color. However, she triumphed through each obstacle, and in 1957, became the first African-American player to win a Wimbledon singles championship title.
“Shaking hands with the queen of England,”Gibson would later say, “was a long way from being forced to sit in the colored section of the bus.”
Gibson retired from tennis at the age of 37 and then earned a spot in the Ladies Professional Golf Association where she enjoyed tremendous success, appearing on the list of Top 50 money winners for five years.
However, Gibson’s true impact wouldn’t be felt until years later when female African-American superstars began to emerge in tennis.
“I am honored to have followed in such great footsteps,” saidVenus Williams. “Her accomplishments set the stage for my success, and through players like myself and Serena and many others to come.”
Alan Schwartz, a US tennis official, toldHistory.com, “Every time a black child or a Hispanic child or an Islamic child picks up a racket for the first time, Althea touches another life. This is her legacy.”