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Althea Gibson ( 1927 - 2003 )  Category ( Athletes ) [suggest a correction]

Althea GibsonOften referred to as the "Jackie Robinson of tennis," Althea Gibson overcame unbelievable odds to achieve international acclaim and success. Her journey from the violent streets of Harlem to the royal courts of Wimbledon reveals her strength of character and her remarkable composure in the face of racial prejudice. A pioneer in both amateur tennis and professional golf, Althea paved the way for the likes of Venus Williams and Tiger Woods.

Althea Gibson lived in Harlem in the 1930s and 1940s. Her family was on welfare. She was a client of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children. She had trouble in school and was often truant. She ran away from home frequently. But, she also played paddle tennis in public recreation programs. Her talent and interest in the game led her to win tournaments sponsored by the Police Athletic Leagues and the Parks Department. Musician Buddy Walker noticed her skills and thought she might do well in tennis. He brought her to the Harlem River Tennis Courts, where she learned the game and began to excel.

Gibson won 11 major titles in the late 1950s, including singles titles at the French Open (1956), Wimbledon (1957, 1958) and the U. S. Open (1957, 1958), as well as three straight doubles crowns at the French Open (1956, 1957, 1958). In 1957, she was the first black to be voted by the Associated Press as it Female Athlete of the Year. She won the honor again in 1958. After winning her second U.S. Championship, she turned professional. One year she earned a reported $100,000 in conjunction with playing a series of matches before Harlem Globetrotter basketball games.

There was no professional tennis tour in those days, so Gibson turned to the pro golf tour for a few years, but she didn't distinguish herself. She tried playing a few events after open tennis started in 1968, but she was in here 40's and too old to beat her younger opponents. She worked as a tennis teaching pro after she stopped competing.

She became New Jersey State Commissioner of Athletics in 1975, a post she held for 10 years. She then served on the State's Athletics Control Board until 1988 and the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness until 1992. Born on August 25, 1927 in Silver, South Carolina, Gibson died on September 28, 2003 at the age of 76 in East Orange General Hospital.

Image: Althea Gibson, half-length portrait, holding tennis racquet / World Telegram & Sun photo by Fred Palumbo, 1956.

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