ALTHEA GIBSON Biography - Famous Sports men and women


Biography » famous sports men and women » althea gibson


Name: Althea Gibson                                                                     
Born: 25 August 1927 Silver, SC                                                         
Died: 28 September 2003 (aged 76) East Orange, NJ                                       
Grand Slam Champion                                                                     
Althea Gibson (1927 – 2003) was an American sportswoman who, on 1950-08-22,           
became the first African-American woman to be a competitor on the world tennis           
tour and the first to win a Grand Slam title in 1956. She is sometimes referred         
to as "the Jackie Robinson of tennis" for breaking the "color barrier." Gibson           
was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.                                         
Born in Silver, South Carolina, Gibson was the daughter of sharecroppers and was         
raised in Harlem, New York City. She and her family were on welfare. Gibson had         
trouble in school. She ran away from home quite frequently. She excelled in             
horsemanship but also competed in golf, basketball, and table tennis. Her talent         
for and love of table tennis led her to win tournaments sponsored by the Police         
Athletic League and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.               
Musician Buddy Walker noticed her playing table tennis and introduced her to             
tennis at the Harlem River Tennis Courts. Dr. Walter Johnson, a Lynchburg,               
Virginia, physician who was active in the black tennis community, helped with           
her training.                                                                           
With the assistance of a sponsor, Gibson moved to Wilmington, North Carolina in         
1946 for tennis training, and in 1947 at the age of 20, she won the first of 10         
consecutive national championships run by the American Tennis Association, the           
then-governing body for black tournaments. Forced to play in what was basically         
a segregated sport, at age 23 Gibson was finally given the opportunity to               
participate in the 1950 U.S. Championships after Alice Marble had written an             
editorial for the July 1, 1950, edition of American Lawn Tennis Magazine. Marble         
said, "Miss Gibson is over a very cunningly wrought barrel, and I can only hope         
to loosen a few of its staves with one lone opinion. If tennis is a game for             
ladies and gentlemen, it's also time we acted a little more like gentlepeople           
and less like sanctimonious hypocrites.... If Althea Gibson represents a                 
challenge to the present crop of women players, it's only fair that they should         
meet that challenge on the courts." Marble said that if Gibson were not given           
the opportunity to compete, "then there is an uneradicable mark against a game           
to which I have devoted most of my life, and I would be bitterly ashamed."[1]           
Gibson continued to improve her tennis game while pursuing an education. In 1953,       
she graduated from Florida A&M University on a tennis and basketball scholarship         
and moved to Jefferson City, Missouri to work as an athletic instructor at               
Lincoln University.                                                                     
A wall-mounted quote by Althea Gibson in The American Adventure in the World             
Showcase pavilion of Walt Disney World's Epcot.                                         
Gibson was now able to compete against the best players from around the world           
because the color barrier had been broken. Gibson's game improved to where she           
won the 1955 Italian Championships. The following year, she won her first Grand         
Slam titles, capturing the French Championships in singles and in doubles with           
her partner, Jewish Englishwoman Angela Buxton. Buxton had run into                     
discrimination from other players and the tennis establishment along the same           
lines as those experienced by Gibson, so the two joined forces and achieved             
great success. Buxton was the first Jewish champion at Wimbledon, and Gibson was         
the first champion of African descent. An English newspaper reported their               
victory at Wimbledon under the headline "Minorities Win."                               
She followed up by becoming the first black person to win a title at Wimbledon,         
again capturing the doubles title with Buxton. At the U.S. Championships that           
year, she reached the singles final where she lost to Shirley Fry Irvin.                 
In 1957, Gibson lost in the singles final of the Australian Championships, again         
to Irvin. The two women, however, teamed to capture the doubles title, as Buxton         
had retired prematurely at the age of 22 due to a serious hand injury.                   
At Wimbledon, Gibson won her first of two consecutive singles championships and,         
upon returning to the United States, was given a ticker-tape parade in New York         
City and an official welcome at New York City Hall. She responded by winning the         
U.S. Championships. For her accomplishments that year, Gibson earned the No. 1           
ranking in the world and was named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the           
In 1958, after successfully defending her Wimbledon singles title and winning           
her third consecutive Wimbledon women's doubles title, Gibson again won the             
singles title at the U.S. Championships. She was named the Associated Press             
Female Athlete of the Year for the second consecutive year. That year, Gibson           
retired from amateur tennis. Before the open era began, there was no prize money,       
other than an expense allowance, and no endorsement deals. To begin earning             
prize money, tennis players had to give up their amateur status. As there was no         
professional tour for women, Gibson was limited to playing in a series of               
exhibition tours.                                                                       
In retirement, Gibson wrote her autobiography and in 1959 recorded an album,             
Althea Gibson Sings, as well as appearing in the motion picture, The Horse               
Soldiers. In 1964, she became the first African-American woman to play in the           
Ladies Professional Golf Association. However, she was too old to be successful         
and only played for a few years.                                                         
In 1971, Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and in         
1975, she was appointed the New Jersey state commissioner of athletics. After 10         
years on the job, she went on to work in other public service positions,                 
including serving on the governor's council on physical fitness. In later years,         
she suffered two cerebran aneurysms and a stroke.                                       
Tennis players made no money in the 1950s, and Gibson’s finances worsened over         
the years. In 1992, she suffered a stroke. A few years later, Gibson called             
Buxton and told her she was on the brink of suicide. Gibson was living on               
welfare and unable to pay for rent or medication. Buxton arranged for a letter           
to appear in a tennis magazine. Buxton told Gibson nothing about the letter, but         
Gibson figured it out when her mailbox started to bulge with envelopes full of           
checks from around the world. Eventually nearly $1 million came in.                     
In 2003, at the age of 76, Gibson died in East Orange, New Jersey due to                 
respiratory failure and was interred there in the Rosedale Cemetery, Orange, New         
On the opening night of the 2007 U.S. Open, the 50th anniversary of Gibson's             
victory at the U.S. National Championships in 1957, (now the U.S. Open) Gibson           
was inducted into U.S. Open Court of Champions.