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.
Althea Gibson smiles as she holds her trophies she won by capturing the national womens singles tennis championship at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, N.Y., in this Sept. 9, 1957 file photo. (AP Photo)
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. Before the Civil Rights Movement opened new doors to black Americans, before Title IX guaranteed girls the right to play school sports, before the United States considered black people to be full and equal citizens under the law… Gibson ascended to the top rank in her chosen sport. She was a pioneer and an inspiration.
Written by Linnea Crowther