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Tennis star Althea Gibson was the first African American to play at Wimbledon. She also broke racial barriers in professional golf.
Arthur Ashe - Mini Biography (3:35)
A short biography on Althea Gibson, the first African-American to win a Grand Slam tournament. After retiring, she became the first African-American on the Ladies Professional Golf Association circuit.
Arthur Ashe was the first African-American male to win men's single titles at Wimbledon. Off the court, he became an anti-apartheid activist and brought attention to HIV/AIDs before succumbing to the disease in 1993.
Serena Williams was only 3 years old when she and her sister, Venus, started playing tennis. Since turning pro, she's won countless Grand Slam titles and two Olympic gold medals.
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Althea Gibson was born in South Carolina on August 25, 1927. At an early age, she developed a love of sport. Her great talent was in tennis, but in the 1950s, most tournaments were closed to African Americans. Gibson kept playing (and winning) until her skills could no longer be denied, and became the first African American to play at Wimbledon.
"I have never regarded myself as a crusader. I don't consciously beat the drums for any cause, not even the negro in the United States."
"People thought I was ruthless, which I was. I didn't give a darn who was on the other side of the net. I'd knock you down if you got in my way."
Althea Neale Gibson, born on August 25, 1927, in Silver City, South Carolina, blazed a new trail in the sport of tennis, winning some of the sport's biggest titles in the 1950s and becoming the game's first black champion.
At a young age, Althea Gibson moved with her family to the Harlem borough of New York City. Gibson's life at this time had its hardships. Her family struggled to make end's meet, living on public assistance for a time, and she struggled in the classroom, often skipping school all together. However, Gibson loved to play sports—especially ping-pong. After winning several tournaments hosted by the local recreation department, she was introduced to the Harlem River Tennis Courts in 1941. Incredibly, just a year after picking up a racket for the first time, Gibson won a local tournament sponsored by the American Tennis Association, an African-American organization established to promote and sponsor tournaments for black players. For Gibson, two more ATA titles followed in 1944 and 1945. After losing one title in 1946, Gibson won 10 straight championships from 1947 to 1956.
Gibson's success at those ATA tournaments paved the way for her to attend Florida A&M University on a sports scholarship. She graduated from the school in 1953, but it was a struggle for her to get by. At one point, she even thought of leaving sports all together to join the U.S. Army. A good deal of her frustration had to do with the fact that so much of the tennis world was closed off to her. The white-dominated, white-managed sport was segregated in the United States, as was the world around it. The breaking point came in 1950, when Alice Mable, a former tennis No. 1 herself, wrote a piece in American Lawn Tennis magazine lambasting her sport for denying a player of Gibson's caliber to compete in the world's best tournaments. Mable's article caught notice and in 1951, and Gibson made history when she became the first African American invited to play at Wimbledon. A year later, she was a Top 10 player in the United States. She then climbed even higher, to No. 7 in 1953.
In 1955, Gibson and her game were sponsored by the United States Lawn Tennis Association, which sent her around the world on a State Department tour that saw her compete in places like India, Pakistan, and Burma. Measuring 5-feet 11-inches, and possessing superb power and athletic skill, Gibson seemed destined for bigger victories. In 1956, it all came together when she won the French Open. Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles followed in 1957 and 1958. In all, Gibson powered her way to 56 singles and doubles championships before turning pro in 1959.
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