JULY 6, 1957

Althea Gibson, in 1956, the year she won the French Open. Credit: Library of Congress

Althea Gibson became the first African American to win the women’s singles title at Wimbledon and became the top female tennis player in the world. Just six years earlier, she had become the first black player to compete at Wimbledon. 

Born in South Carolina, she grew up in Harlem, where she loved table tennis. A local musician invited her to play tennis, and she became so talented that a year later, she won a local tournament sponsored by the American Tennis Association (formed by African Americans), later winning 12 ATA titles in just 13 years. 

Despite her talent, much of the tennis world remained closed off to her. The breakthrough came in 1950 when tennis legend Alice Marble lambasted the sport for barring Gibson from the world’s best tournaments. The tennis world opened its doors, and Gibson became a Top 10 player in the U.S. 

In 1956, she won the French Open. After winning both the women’s singles and doubles at Wimbledon in 1957, she was welcomed with a ticker tape parade in New York City. She went on to win 56 singles and doubles championships before turning pro in 1959. 

Although she declared that she never considered herself a crusader, there is no question that she opened the doors for many others. She even tried golf, becoming the first black woman to compete on the pro tour. 

After she retired, she was inducted in 1971 into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She died in 2003 at the age of 77. In 2013, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in her honor. Venus Williams said Gibson has been an inspiration to her and her sister, Serena.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Help inform our coverage as we build a newsroom for and by the people of New Orleans:

Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts with us by answering each question.

The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption,...