The Gift of Gibson; A look into the career of Althea Gibson

Kamryn Jackson, Contributor

In honor of Black History Month, it is only right to recognize one of the pioneers of Black women in sports, Althea Gibson. 

Gibson was born on August 25, 1927. Despite being born in South Carolina, Gibson spent most of her early life in Harlem, where her family often struggled to get off their feet, as they lived off government aid for some time. 

Regardless of Gibson’s family struggles, the one thing that always kept her afloat was her love for sports. 

Gibson was a natural in tennis. Despite having under two years of experience under her belt, Gibson claimed victory at over ten local tennis tournaments sponsored by the American Tennis Association (ATA), an organization to develop and promote tournaments for Black players. Gibson won her first title with the ATA before turning 18, giving her ample time to perfect her craft.

Due to Gibson’s success with the ATA, she attended Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) on a sports scholarship. Throughout college Gibson was determined to advance her tennis career further; however, the amount of racism and prejudice that ruled the country at that time made it extremely difficult for Gibson to do so.

The tennis world was dominated by white people, which advertently led to the sport being deeply segregated, making it strenuous for Gibson to find her footing and prevail.

Gibson was denied entry to several significant tournaments before attending the Eastern Lawn Tennis Association Grass Court Championships in 1950.

Luckily for Gibson, she had Alice Marble on her side, a former tennis player who could not fathom the idea of a player of Gibson’s level being denied entry into some of the nation’s most competitive tournaments.

Marble wrote an article in the American Lawn Tennis magazine chastising those responsible for denying Gibson the opportunity to compete in major tournaments. Marble’s report received public attention, and sure enough, Gibson became the first Black American ever invited to play at Wimbledon.

Through good old-fashioned hard work and determination, Gibson became the first Black American to win the French Open in 1956, the Wimbledon Championship in 1957 and the U.S. Open singles championship in 1958.

Gibson turned pro in 1959 and gained immense fame and popularity as she continued to win more tennis matches throughout her career. Gibson even briefly took a break from the courts and turned to the course, showing an interest in golf. Gibson soon made history again, becoming the first Black woman to compete on the pro tour. 

Gibson serves as a massive inspiration for several Black tennis players, such as Arthur Ashe, the only Black man to win a singles title at Wimbledon, and present-day tennis legends, Venus and Serena Williams.

“I have all the opportunities I have today because of people like Althea,” Venus Williams said.

In 1971, Gibson was officially inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, stamping her as a legend for the rest of her life. 

Unfortunately, Gibson passed away on September 28, 2003, due to respiratory failure.

Gibson was known for many things, but her most famous quote was motivational to all.

“I always wanted to be somebody. If I made it, it’s half because I was game enough to take a lot of punishment along the way and half because there were a lot of people who cared enough to help me,” Gibson said. 

In turn, Gibson became a legend who paved the way for several Black athletes.

Although Althea Gibson is gone, she is never forgotten.