Died: Sept. 28, 2003
Born to South Carolina sharecroppers during the cotton market collapse of the 1920s, Althea Gibson moved to New York as a toddler with her family, looking for better opportunities.
For Gibson, this meant access to organized sports as a young child. Their neighborhood was designated a police athletic play league and by the age of 12, Gibson was New York City’s table tennis champion.
In the following years, she was introduced to court tennis and took to the game quickly. Just a year after picking up a regular tennis racket, she won a local tournament sponsored by the American Tennis Association, which promoted and sponsored tournaments for black players.
In 1950, she became the first African-American tennis player to compete in the US Nationals and the next year was the first African-American to play tennis at Wimbledon.
She won several major titles in the 1950s: French Open, US Nationals and Wimbledon.
She retired from tennis and became the first African-American on the LPGA tour, though she had less success as a golfer.
She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971. Four years later, she started a 10-year stint as the New Jersey commissioner of athletics and was a member of the governor’s council on physical fitness.
She also is a member of the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, National Women’s Hall of Fame and SC Tennis Hall of Fame.
Her five Wimbledon trophies are on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.
In 2013, she was honored with a US postage stamp bearing her likeness.
South Carolina connection:
Gibson was born in Silver, a community in rural Clarendon County, to sharecroppers on a cotton farm. Her family moved to Harlem when she was a young child to escape crushing poverty brought on by the Great Depression.
Gibson’s likeness is included in the African-American History Monument on the South Carolina State House grounds in Columbia. http://discoversouthcarolina.com/products/3783
The Althea Gibson Club Court at the prestigious Family Circle Tennis Center on Daniel Island is named in her honor.