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Althea Gibson, Tennis Trailblazer

AP Photo / Marty Lederhandler

Before the end of segregation, before Title IX, Althea Gibson soared to the top of her sport.

In the 1950s, Althea Gibson joined the ranks of trailblazers like Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Jesse Owens when she became the first black woman to compete on the world tennis tour. Her 1956 Grand Slam win was a crucial step in ushering in the integration of professional sports.

In 1957, Gibson cemented her status as a tennis legend by becoming the first black woman to win at Wimbledon – and she repeated the win in 1958.

As her wins piled up, her celebrity grew, leading to engagements like this appearance on game show What’s My Line?

The multi-talented Gibson also appeared in the movie The Horse Soldiers and embarked on a recording career. Her one-and-only album, Althea Gibson Sings, didn’t lead to a musical career, but it wasn’t for lack of listenability – Gibson’s singing voice was rich and pleasant.

Of course, what we knew her best for was her athleticism and her groundbreaking work in the tennis world.

Given the times in which she lived, Gibson’s achievements were impressive. In a time when segregation was still the law in much of America, when black Americans were fighting to be considered full and equal citizens under the law, before Title IX guaranteed girls the right to play sports in school, Gibson ascended to the top rank in her chosen sport. She was a pioneer and an inspiration.