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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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For her part, however, Gibson downplayed her pioneering role. "I have never regarded myself as a crusader," she states in her 1958 autobiography, I Always Wanted to Be Somebody. "I don't consciously beat the drums for any cause, not even the negro in the United States."
As a professional, Gibson continued to win—she landed the singles title in 1960—but just as importantly, she started to make money. She was reportedly paid $100,000 for a playing a series of matches before Harlem Globetrotter games. For a short time, too, the athletically gifted Gibson turned to golf, making history again as the first black woman ever to compete on the pro tour. But failing to win on the course as she had on the courts, she eventually returned to tennis. In 1968, with the advent of tennis' Open era, Gibson tried to repeat her past success. She was too old and too slow-footed, however, to keep up with her younger counterparts.
Following her retirement, in 1971, Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She stayed connected to sports, however, through a number of service positions. Beginning in 1975, she served 10 years as Commissioner of Athletics for the state of New Jersey. She was also a member of the governor's council on physical fitness.
But just as her early childhood had been, Gibson's last few years were dominated by hardship. She nearly went bankrupt before former tennis great Billy Jean King and others stepped in to help her out. Her health, too, went into decline. She suffered a stroke and developed serious heart problems. On September 28, 2003, Gibson died of respiratory failure in East Orange, New Jersey.
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