UNDATED: Althea Gibson of the United States plays during Wimbledon in 1956. Gibson, the first black person to win Wimbledon and the U.S. national title, died September 28, 2003 at the age of 76. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Happy Women’s History Month! This is the 13th blog of a series of blogs called “Women’s History Month Heroes You Should Know”. This series will be a collection of my research into little-known American women who have made history in one way or another (or multiple ways!).

The focus of today’s blog is Althea Gibson, the world-famous tennis star who became the first Black person to win the French championship.

This is her story.

Childhood in Harlem

According to ESPN, Althea Gibson was born in 1927 in South Carolina. After she turned three, her family relocated to Harlem in New York City, which is where she spent the rest of her childhood. Growing up as an athletic kid, Gibson oftentimes skipped school to play sports like basketball and eventually tennis. She grew to love tennis so much that after she dropped out of high school, she played in tournaments under the American Tennis Association.

Training in the South

Her impressive athleticism caught the eye of two wealthy tennis-playing doctors named Hubert Eaton and Robert W. Johnson. With them, she moved to the South to train hard and enroll back in school for the last three years before she graduated in Wilmington in 1949. After winning the National Black Women’s Tennis Championship twice, Gibson qualified to compete in the 1950 U.S. Nationals. Although she played competitively, she needed more time to train to match the competition so she lost.

AP’s Female Athlete of the Year…Twice!

In 1952, Gibson ranked as number nine among American women. She kept playing and eventually defeated the defending champion of the French championships in 1956. Although she lost the U.S. Nationals, she kept competing in singles tournaments and winning. A year later, she became the first Black person to be voted in as the Associated Press’s Female Athlete of the Year, an award she also won the next year in 1958. During this time, she experienced racism and discrimination, as some hotels and venues would not allow her to book with them.

Legacy

Still, she made history winning two U.S. Championships and then turning professional. During this time, there were no professional tennis tours, so she did pro golf for a while before traveling with the Harlem Globetrotters. She tried to compete in open tennis tours but being in her 40s at the time, she could not be as competitive as she once had been. She became a tennis coach after that. In 1958, she published her autobiography called “I Always Wanted To Be Somebody”. Read more about Althea Gibson here.

Source: ESPN

Read another post from the blog series “Women’s History Month Heroes You Should Know” here.