Althea Gibson at the Colorado Tennis Open in the summer of 1957
On July 21, 1957, Althea Gibson entered the record books as the first African-American – male or female – to win the U.S. Open Tennis Championship singles title. On July 6, two weeks earlier, Althea had become the first African-American to win at Wimbledon, taking the singles title by defeating Darlene Hard, then the doubles title with Hard as her partner. In all, Althea won eleven major tennis championships in the late 1950s and was voted Female Athlete of the Year for 1957 by the Associated Press, another first for an African-American. The AP honored her again with the title in 1958.
Born into poverty in South Carolina, Gibson grew up in Harlem. She came to the attention of Lynchberg, Virginia physician Walter Johnson, who was active in the African-American tennis community. Johnson helped Althea obtain better instruction and access to competitions within the U.S. Tennis Association. In 1964, Gibson amazingly switched to golf and joined the Ladies Professional Golf Association – again, the first African-American to do so. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971.
Image Credits: Dave Mathias/Denver Post/Getty Images; Fred Palumbo/NYWTS/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain