ALTHEA GIBSON

An exceptional athlete with a formidable serve, Althea Gibson (b.1927) won 56 titles in her career. A courageous champion, Gibson became the first black player in international tennis.

Gibson grew up in Harlem where she first attracted attention playing paddle tennis.Switching to tennis at age 13, Gibson went on to win 10 successive national championships sponsored by the all-black American Tennis Association. Two ATA officials, Dr. Hubert Eaton and Dr. Robert Johnson, nurtured Gibson’s career and enabled her to attend Florida A&M University. Through her mentors’ efforts, aided by an impassioned statement from Alice Marble, Gibson played at the U.S. championships in 1950 and then at Wimbledon in 1951.

After earning her B.S. in 1953 and briefly retiring from tennis Gibson came roaring back in 1956, winning the French women’s singles and doubles titles and Wimbledon doubles – the first black to win a Grand Slam event. In both 1957 and 1958 Gibson took the U.S. and Wimbledon singles crowns, becoming the No.1 player in the world.

Gibson turned professional in 1959 and later pursued a variety of interests including a 10-year term as New Jersey State Athletic Commissioner. Awarded numerous honors, Gibson became the first woman recipient of the NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Award in 1991.

Career Highlights

  • 11 Grand Slam titles (5 Singles, 5 Doubles, 1 Mixed Doubles)
  • Ranked in USTA Top 10 for six years, No.1 in 1957, 1958
  • American Tennis Association (ATA) Junior Champion 1944, 1945
  • ATA Singles Champion 1947-1956
  • ATA Mixed Doubles Champion 1948-1950, 1952-1955
  • First black to play tennis in a USTA-sanctioned event, reaching quarterfinals in 1949 Eastern Indoor Championships
  • U.S. Singles Champion 1957, 1958
  • U.S. Mixed Doubles Champion 1957
  • Wimbledon Singles Champion 1957, 1958
  • Wimbledon Doubles Champion 1956, 1957, 1958
  • French Singles Champion 1956
  • French Doubles Champion 1956
  • Australian Doubles Champion 1957
  • U.S. Clay Court Singles and Doubles Champion 1957
  • Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year 1957, 1958
  • U.S. Wightman Cup Team Member 1957, 1958 (5-1 record)
  • Gold Medalist in singles, 1959 Pan American Games
  • World Professional Tennis Champion 1960
  • Author, I Always Wanted to Be Somebody
  • Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame 1971
  • Inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame 1980
  • Winner of the NCAA Theodore Roosevelt Award 1991