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Sports Then and Now



Queens of the Court: Althea Gibson, A Sports Pioneer 21

Posted on November 02, 2009 by Claudia Celestial Girl
Althear Gibson was 23 before she was allowed to compete in a major championship.

Althea Gibson was 23 before she was allowed to compete in a major championship.

Born in 1927, the year after the historic “Match of the Century ” featured in our previous two articles between the divine Suzanne Lenglen and the poker-faced Helen Wills, Althea Gibson is another of our Queens of the Court.

In 1956 Althea Gibson made history by becoming the first person of African descent, of any nationality, to win a tennis major (the French).

Ironically, Althea Gibson became the first black woman to not only achieve major success in the world of professional tennis, but also to compete after leaving tennis as a professional golfer.

But her career in tennis was a tough row to hoe.

Unlike Suzanne Lenglen or Helen Wills, who both played their first tournaments as teenagers, and so began amassing statistics, Althea Gibson did not enter the world “tour” of tennis until the age of 23. Why?

As an African-American woman from Harlem, New York, Althea Gibson was not allowed to play the majors until in the fall of 1950, when she was allowed to enter the U.S. National Championships (later to become the U.S. Open), then played at Forest Hills.

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