Althea Gibson

Althea Gibson

"No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helped you." - Althea Gibson


Illustration by Lan Truong

Illustration by Lan Truong

Famed American athlete, Althea Gibson was the first black athlete to cross color barriers in international tennis and golf. At a time when segregation was widespread in sports and society, Gibson worked hard to beat her opponents as an equal. 

Althea was born in 1927 in Clarendon County, South Carolina to two sharecroppers on a cotton farm. Due to the Great Depression, the family eventually the family moved to Harlem where Gibson's natural athletic ability flourished. With the support of her neighbors, she received lessons at the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club and in 1941, she won the ATA national championship in the girls division. Her success won her the attention of Walter Johnson and Hubert A. Eaton who coached her not only in tennis but in her studies as well. 

At each level of competition, Gibson faced racial discrimination that prevented her from competing. At the time, many club houses and hotels denied service to African Americans. Some competitions prevented Gibson from even stepping foot into the club because of her skin color and before tournaments, Gibson would change outfits in her car because the lady's locker room were off limits.

As a two-time winner of the national black women's tennis championship, Gibson's natural next step would be the U.S. Nationals but she was shut out until Alice Marble advanced her cause in an issue of "American Lawn Tennis" magazine. "If Althea Gibson represents a challenge to the present crop of players, then it's only fair that they meet this challenge on the courts," Marble wrote.

She followed up with wins at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals in 1957 and 1958 and earning her the status of first African American to claim the title at Wimbledon, the French Open, and the U.S. Nationals. She won eleven Grand Slam titles in all. 

In the early 60s, Althea Gibson took up golf at the age of 37 and became the first black player to compete on the women's professional golf tour. 

Her accomplishments were revolutionary because of the impact on black America. She proved that blacks, when given an opportunity, could compete at any level in American society.

"I hope that I have accomplished just one thing," she said, in 1958, "that I have been a credit to tennis, and to my country." "By all measures," reads the inscription on her Newark statue, "Althea Gibson certainly attained that goal."


Girls in the Game knows that girls are strong. And that given the opportunity they’re capable of changing their lives and their communities. All they need is a chance. Unfortunately, research tells us that, compared to boys, they aren’t always given those opportunities. For over 20 years, Girls in the Game has empowered more than 40,000 girls, helping them to grow up happy, healthy and strong. Learning through sports, health and leadership programs that it’s not about winning. It’s about making your voice heard. It’s about overcoming obstacles. Getting off the sidelines, and into the game.

Etta James

Etta James

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson