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 Althea Gibson

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Althea Gibson

  • Birth 25 Aug 1927 Silver, Clarendon County, South Carolina, USA
  • Death 28 Sep 2003 East Orange, Essex County, New Jersey, USA
  • Burial Orange, Essex County, New Jersey, USA
  • Memorial ID 7919058

Professional Tennis Player. A tennis player at the age of 15 she began playing professionally in the 1950s. She was the first African-American to win Wimbledon and United States national titles, and also was the first Africa-American to compete in the United States championships, in 1950, and at Wimbledon, in 1951. She went onto win major tournaments, including the Wimbledon and United States championships in 1957 and 1958, the French Open, and three doubles titles at Wimbledon from 1956 to 1958. Born in Silver, South Carolina, the oldest of five siblings, she was a natural athlete who went onto break racial barriers not only in tennis but in the Ladies Professional Golf Association. She even toured with the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team after retiring from tennis in the late 1950s. She won her first tournament at the age of 15, becoming the New York State black girls' singles tennis champion. She attended high school in Wilmington, North Carolina, where she met Dr. R.W. Johnson, who let her into his family's home and let her play on his grass court. Johnson later coached Gibson and helped to further her career. She later attended Florida A&M on a tennis and basketball scholarship, and then began her ascent in the American Tennis Association, founded in 1916 for black players. In 1950, she was the first black to play in the National Grass Court Tennis Championships, coming within a point of beating Wimbledon champion Louise Brough. She broke the racial barrier at Wimbledon the following year, but disappointment at losing nearly caused her to give up the game for the Army in 1955. In 1956 she began a nine-month tour sponsored by the United States State Department, winning 14 tournaments, including the French and Italian championships, and reaching the finals in the three she did not win. She also captured her first women's doubles championship at Wimbledon. Although she was beaten at Wimbledon in the singles and a final-round loser at the United States championship in New York, she was on top of her game and in 1957 she began a two-year run as champion of the top two tournaments in tennis. Althea Gibson was named Woman Athlete of the Year in 1957 and 1958. In 1957 following her Wimbledon victory, she was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City and an official welcome at City Hall. She retired from the game soon after her 1958 Wimbledon and United States titles because there was no prize money and few lucrative deals. She briefly tried singing, later signing a $100,000 deal to play in several exhibition tennis matches before Globetrotter games in 1959. In 1959 she also took up acting, appearing in the film, "The Horse Soldiers" playing the role of 'Lukey.' Gibson took up golf in 1960 and became the first black woman on the LPGA tour in 1962, but won no tournaments and earned little money. Inducted into numerous hall of fames, she became State Commissioner of athletics in New Jersey in 1975, a job she held for 10 years. She then served on the State Athletics Control Board until 1988, and the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness until 1992. In 1988 she donated many of her awards to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. She continued to be active in volunteering work until 1996 when she became seriously ill and had to depend on friends and social security for help. She died at the East Orange General Hospital in East Orange, New Jersey, at the age of 76.

Bio by: Peterborough "K"

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 28 Sep 2003
  • Find A Grave Memorial 7919058
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Althea Gibson (25 Aug 1927–28 Sep 2003), Find A Grave Memorial no. 7919058, citing Rosedale Cemetery, Orange, Essex County, New Jersey, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave Cremated.