August 25, 1927:
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 1940s and ’50s, most tournaments were closed to African Americans. Gibson kept playing (and winning) until her skills could no longer be denied, and in 1951, she became the first African American to play at Wimbledon. Measuring 5-feet 11-inches, and possessing superb power and athletic skill, Gibson seemed destined for big victories. In 1956, it all came together when she won the French Open. Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles followed in both 1957 and 1958. (She won both the women’s singles and doubles at Wimbledon in 1957, which was celebrated by a ticker tape parade when she returned home to New York City.) In all, Gibson powered her way to 56 singles and doubles championships before turning pro in 1959. For a short time, too, after dominating in tennis, the athletically gifted Gibson turned to golf, making history again as the first black woman ever to compete on the pro tour.
Gibson inspired prominent black players including three-time men’s grand slam winner Arthur Ashe, 1990 women’s Wimbledon finalist Zina Garrison and modern day greats like the Williams sisters. Venus Williams once said she had all the opportunities she has today “because of people like Althea.”
For Gibson to achieve what she did, however, she had to scrap, battle and overcome barriers that few of her contemporaries would have been faced with.