In our semi-regular column “They Reminisce”, we take a quick look back at some of the more memorable and lasting moments in sports and entertainment.
Born in South Carolina and raised in Harlem, Althea Gibson became the first African-American to win the Wimbledon title on this day in 1957. She was welcomed home in New York City with a ticker-tape parade that was attended by more than 100,000 people.
A year earlier, she won the French Open as well, becoming the first African-American to win a Grand Slam.
A few months after winning the Wimbledon crown in 1957, she also captured the title at the U.S. Open en route to being named the Associated Press female athlete of the year. She took home the honor in 1958 as well after winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open again, in addition to the Australian Open before retiring.
In 1964, she became the first Black woman to join the LPGA.
“I always wanted to be somebody,” Gibson once wrote. “If I made it, its half because I was game enough to take a lot of punishment along the way and half because there were a lot of people who cared enough to help me.”
People often forget to mention Althea Gibson when discussing the individuals in sport who paved the way through the barriers of racism. A graduate of Florida A&M University, she was the sign on the Tennis Superhighway that said, “Serena and Venus Williams, 100 Miles ahead.”
The next African-American woman to win a Grand Slam was Serena, 43 years after Gibson accomplished the feat.
In a 1977 Ebony Magazine article, “A Fruitful Past but a Shaky Future,” the outstanding current New York Times columnist Bill Rhoden wrote, “Althea Gibson and Wilma Rudolph are, without question, the most significant athletic forces among black women in sports history. While Rudolph’s accomplishments brought more visibility to women as athletes … Althea’s accomplishments were more revolutionary because of the psycho-social impact on black America. Even to those blacks who hadn’t the slightest idea of where or what Wimbledon was, her victory, like Jackie Robinson’s in baseball and Jack Johnson’s in boxing, proved again that blacks, when given an opportunity, could compete at any level in American society.”