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Althea Gibson
(b. 1927)
No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helped you.

I always wanted to be somebody. If I made it, it's 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.
—Althea Gibson

Surmounting the obstacles of poverty and racism, Althea Gibson reached the pinnacle of her sport against the odds, becoming the first African American woman to win a major tennis tournament. In 1956, Gibson broke the color barrier at a major tournament by becoming the first black person to win the French championships. The next year, she did it again by winning both Wimbledon and the US Nationals, and repeated these two tournament wins the following year for good measure. Althea Gibson was a dominant force in women's tennis.

Born August 25, 1927 in Silver, South Carolina, Gibson, a right-hander, grew up in Harlem. Gibson disliked school but she was very good at sports. Her favorite was basketball but it was paddle tennis that started her on the way to her destiny. Displaying an awesome talent, she was given a tennis racquet by a friendly musician and immediately took to the game. She then quit school and devoted her time to tennis, playing in tournaments organized by the American Tennis Association, which was predominantly black.

Mentored both academically and in tennis by two black doctors, Herbert Eaton of North Carolina and Robert W. Johnson of Virginia (who later mentored Arthur Ashe, she graduated from high school in Wilmington, North Carolina and college at Florida A&M at 21 and 26, respectively.

Her mentors thought that after winning the national black women's tournament twice, it was fitting that she now take her game, which was a "combination of deftness and power," to the US Nationals. At that time tennis, like the rest of society, was segregated, and Gibson was barred from entering the tournaments sponsored by the leading body, the United States Lawn Tennis Association. Alice Marble, a white four-time single winner at Forest Hills, intervened on her behalf and she was allowed to compete. | Continued
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Books

Althea Gibson, Tom Biracree, Holloway House Pub. Co., 1990.
Buy it in hardcover: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca
Buy it in library binding: Amazon.com

Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, Darlene Hine, Elsa Barkley Brown and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn (eds.), Indiana University Press, 1994.
Buy it in hardcover: Amazon.com
Buy it in paperback: Amazon.com

Changing the Game: The Stories of Tennis Champions Alice Marble and Althea Gibson, Sue Davidson, Seal Press Feminist Pub., 1997.
Buy it in paperback: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca

A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete Since 1946, Arthur Ashe Jr., Warner Books Inc., 1988.
Buy it in hardcover: Amazon.com

I Always Wanted to be Somebody, Althea Gibson, Harper Collins, 1958.
Buy it in hardcover: Amazon.com

Women in Sports: The Complete Book on the World's Greatest Female Athletes, Joseph Layden, General Pub. Group, 1998.
Buy it in hardcover: Amazon.com

Search for 'Althea Gibson' on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.
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Links