Althea Gibson was one of the greatest female athletes of the twentieth century. This FAMU alumna died Sunday morning at the age of 76.
Gibson paved the way for African-American tennis players such as Arthur Ashe, Zina Garrison, Malivai Washington, and the Williams sisters.
A quote from Venus Williams following her 1997 debut at the U.S. Open is the epitome of Gibson’s importance to the sport of tennis. “For players like myself and a lot of other African-American players on the tour, Althea Gibson paved the way for us.”
The impact Gibson had on the sport of tennis is immeasurable. She was to tennis what Jackie Robinson was to baseball or what Willie O’Ree was to hockey.
She dominated the sport in the late 50s becoming the first African-American, male or female, to win Wimbledon, the United States Championship and the French Championship.
Gibson was such a force on the courts that she was named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1957 and 1958. She had to retire from tennis soon after her 1958 U.S. Championship title because only amateurs were allowed to compete at major championships and she was unable to gain money from playing tennis.
When I was growing up and learning to play tennis from my father, who was at FAMU during the time Gibson was, the first person he told me about in terms of the history of the sport were not legends such as Bill Tilden, Don Budge or Rod Laver, but Gibson. My father continually talked about the graceful power Gibson showed on and off the tennis court.
Gibson was once quoted as saying “Tennis is a game for ladies and gentlemen, and I conduct myself in that manner.”
Yes, you did Althea; the world thanks you for doing so.
Will Brown, 18, is a sophomore broadcast journalism student from Rockledge, Fl. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.