Althea Gibson broke the barriers of tennis and golf
In February, Sports Illustrated celebrates Black History Month by spotlighting a different iconic athlete or group of athletes each day. Today, SI looks back on the legacy of Althea Gibson.
Althea Gibson was the first African-American tennis player to be ranked No. 1 in the world. She was the first African-American to participate in the once-separate US Open, which opened the door to a career rich in championships: one French Open, two US Open and two Wimbledon.
To top it off, she was a world-class golfer, becoming the first African-American to compete in the Women’s Professional Golf Tour.
Through her courage and disrespect for regressive race-based sports policies, Gibson became a trailblazer for future generations of African American tennis and golf athletes, including Venus and Serena Williams and Tiger Woods.
“He’s not just a player who has won a ton of titles, he’s someone who has transcended our sport and paved a way for people of color,” said Katrina Adams, the first African American president of the USTA. The New York Times. “If there was no Althea, there wouldn’t be me, because tennis wouldn’t have been so open to me. All she had to do was three times as difficult as a normal person.
After becoming the first black Wimbledon winner in history in 1957, Gibson returned to the United States for a ticker parade in New York City. She became the second African American to be honored in this way, after Jesse Owens. Gibson also had the opportunity to meet Queen Elizabeth II after her victory, which Gibson recounted in his autobiography.
“Shaking hands with the Queen of England was far from being forced to sit in the colorful section of the bus,” Gibson wrote in 1958.
Gibson was also known for her humble and gentle confidence. This excerpt is taken from a Illustrated sports story about the pioneer from 1957:
“Are you ready for the Nationals? I asked him.
“Of course,” Althea said. “I’m not afraid of any of the players there.”
“I was hoping you would say that,” I added.
“What I mean is,” Althea Gibson concluded thinking, “if I play my game the way I should, then I feel like I can beat anyone. But I certainly don’t want to be too much. confident because if I play badly I can easily be beaten by a black sheep, but I don’t think I will.
Last year, a Gibson statue was erected on the grounds of the US Open.
“Althea has reoriented the world and changed our perceptions of what is possible”, Eric Goulder, the sculptor of his statue, Recount The New York Times. “We are still in trouble. But she innovated.
From the SI safe:
“Althea Gibson”, by Sarah Palfrey. (September 2, 1957)
“The New Gibson Girl” (July 2, 1956)