During Black History Month, DiversityInc is honoring a series of Black innovators and history makers such as Althea Gibson who are often overlooked in mainstream media coverage and history books. Check back throughout February to learn about more important figures.
Born: August 25, 1927, Clarendon County, South Carolina
Died: September 28, 2003, East Orange, New Jersey
Known best for: being the first African American athlete to win a Grand Slam title, as well as being one of the first Black American athletes during segregation to cross the color line for international tennis.
Althea Gibson paved the way for Black women into the sport of tennis, which has been predominantly male and white since its beginning. Althea Gibson won the French championships in 1956 and both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 1957. She won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open twice.
She was the first Black woman to ever do so, according to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. The Associated Press named her Female Athlete of the Year in 1956 and 1957.
Both Cori Gauff and Serena Williams, arguably the best female player of all time, have said Gibson was an inspiration for them to play.
“Althea set an example. I know every time I step out on the court I play for me and I play for all the other little African American kids out there who have a dream and who might not have the means,” Serena Williams told D360 Magazine.
“I have all the opportunities today because of people like Althea. Just trying to follow in her footsteps,” Venus Williams, Serena’s sister, told the same magazine.
Gibson was overall a natural athlete. She didn’t stop at tennis and became a professional golfer in 1963, another sport dominated mainly by white men.
Gibson was born in 1927 in South Carolina to sharecropper parents. After the Great Depression hit, they moved to Harlem. She received a racket as a present and that’s how her career in tennis began. She was a natural talent early on and was the only Black female tennis player to be the world’s number 1 before Venus Williams arrived about 50 years later.