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Celebrating Black Excellence: Althea Gibson

As Black History Month is a time to recognize and celebrate the achievements of black individuals who have significantly impacted history, it is important to acknowledge the accomplishments of Althea Gibson, a trailblazer in the world of tennis.

Althea Gibson was born in South Carolina in 1927 and grew up in Harlem, New York City. Despite facing significant obstacles due to her race and gender, Gibson excelled in tennis from a young age. She began playing tennis on the public courts in Harlem and quickly showed her talent, winning her first tournament at age 15.

Gibson's success in tennis continued to grow. In 1950, she became the first black tennis player to compete in the United States National Championships. Although she lost in the second round, this was a groundbreaking achievement that paved the way for future black tennis players. In 1951, she won her first major title, the French Open, becoming the first black person to win a Grand Slam title.

Over the next few years, Gibson continued to break barriers in tennis. In 1956, she became the first black person to win a singles title at Wimbledon, and in 1957 she won both the singles and doubles titles at Wimbledon. She also won the U.S. National Championships in 1957 and 1958, making her the first black person to win that tournament.

Gibson's success in tennis paved the way for future black tennis players. It helped break down racial barriers in other areas of society. She was one of the first black athletes to gain widespread recognition and fame. She used her platform to advocate for racial equality and civil rights.

After retiring from tennis in the 1960s, Gibson continued to make a difference in the world. She worked as a tennis instructor and became a professional golfer, another sport in which she excelled. In 1971, she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. In 2019, a statue of her was unveiled at the U.S. Open.

Althea Gibson's legacy as a pioneer in tennis and an advocate for civil rights continues to inspire people today. Her determination and perseverance in the face of discrimination and adversity serve as a reminder of the importance of breaking down barriers and fighting for equality. As we celebrate Black History Month, we should remember Althea Gibson's contributions to the world of sports and society.

On July 6, 1957, Althea Gibson became the first black tennis player to win a Wimbledon singles title. She is pictured here in an unpublished frame from 1949 by the great Gordon Parks. (Gordon Parks—The LIFE Picture Collection

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