Althea Gibson

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Althea Gibson
Althea Gibson NYWTS.jpg
Gibson in 1956
Country United States
Born August 25, 1927(1927-08-25)
Clarendon County, South Carolina
Died September 28, 2003(2003-09-28) (aged 76)
East Orange, New Jersey
Height 1.80 m (5 ft 11 in)
Plays Right-handed
Int. Tennis HOF 1971 (member page)
Singles
Grand Slam Singles results
Australian Open F (1957)
French Open W (1956)
Wimbledon W (1957, 1958)
US Open W (1957, 1958)
Doubles
Grand Slam Doubles results
Australian Open W (1957)
French Open W (1956)
Wimbledon W (1956, 1957, 1958)
US Open W (1957)

Althea Gibson (August 25, 1927 – September 28, 2003) was a World No. 1 American sportswoman who became the first African-American woman to be a competitor on the world tennis tour and the first to win a Grand Slam title in 1956. She is sometimes known as "the Jackie Robinson of tennis" for breaking the color barrier. Gibson was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

Biography[change | change source]

Althea Gibson was born at 9:00 am EDT on August 25, 1927 in Silver, Clarendon County, South Carolina to Daniel and Annie Bell Gibson. Althea had two siblings, a brother, Daniel Jr. (known as "Bubba") and a sister, Mildred.

Gibson played tennis while going to school for an education. In 1946, she moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, to work on her tennis game with Dr. Hubert A. Eaton and enrolled at Williston High School.

In 1958, Gibson retired from amateur tennis. Before the open era of tennis began, there was no prize money, other than an expense allowance, and no endorsement contracts. To begin earning prize money, tennis players had to give up their amateur status. As there was no professional tour for women, Gibson was limited to playing in a series of exhibition tours.

According to Lance Tingay of The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, Gibson was ranked in the world top ten from 1956 through 1958, reaching a career high of No. 1 in those rankings in 1957 and 1958.[1] Gibson was included in the year-end top ten rankings issued by the United States Tennis Association in 1952 and 1953 and from 1955 through 1958. She was the top-ranked U.S. player in 1957 and 1958.[2] In 1957 Althea became the first African American woman to win Wimbledon. She won again in 1958. In 1958, she appeared as the celebrity challenger on the TV panel show "What's My Line?".

In retirement, Gibson wrote her autobiography and in 1959 recorded an album, Althea Gibson Sings, as well as appearing in the motion picture, The Horse Soldiers. In 1964, she became the first African American woman to play in the Ladies Professional Golf Association. However, she was too old to be successful and only played for a few years.

In 1971, Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and in 1975, she was appointed the New Jersey state commissioner of athletics. After 10 years on the job, she went on to work in other public service positions, including serving on the governor's council on physical fitness. In later years, she suffered two cerebral aneurysms and, in 1992, a stroke. A few years later, Gibson called her former doubles partner Angela Buxton and told her she was considering suicide, as she was living on welfare and unable to pay for rent or medication. Buxton arranged for a letter to appear in a tennis magazine. Buxton told Gibson nothing about the letter, but the latter received nearly US$1 million from around the world.[3]

Gibson was married twice. Her first marriage to William Darben took place on October 17, 1965, but the couple was divorced in 1976, eleven years later. Darben died in 1995. She was also married to Sydney Llewellyn on April 11, 1983 and was divorced from him in 1988.

On September 28, 2003, at the age of 76, Gibson died in East Orange, New Jersey due to infections. She was buried there in the Rosedale Cemetery, at Orange, New Jersey.

On the opening night of the 2007 US Open, the 50th anniversary of Gibson's victory at the US Championships in 1957 (now the US Open), Gibson was inducted into US Open Court of Champions.[4][5] She was a 1994 inductee of the Sports Hall of Fame of New Jersey and 2009 inductee of the New Jersey Hall of Fame. In September 2009, the City of Wilmington, NC named its new community tennis complex the Althea Gibson Tennis Center.

Golf[change | change source]

Gibson became the first African American woman to join the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour, in 1964.[6] Her best finish on the tour was a tie for second after a three-way playoff at the 1970 Len Immke Buick Open.[7] Gibson retired from professional golf at the end of the 1978 season.[8]

Grand Slam finals[change | change source]

Wins (5)[change | change source]

Althea Gibson's 1956 Wimbledon trophy, the first for an African American
Year Championship Opponent in Final Score in Final
1956 French Championships United Kingdom Angela Mortimer Barrett 6–0, 12–10
1957 Wimbledon United States Darlene Hard 6–3, 6–2
1957 U.S. Championships United States Louise Brough Clapp 6–3, 6–2
1958 Wimbledon (2) United Kingdom Angela Mortimer Barrett 8–6, 6–2
1958 U.S. Championships (2) United States Darlene Hard 3–6, 6–1, 6–2

Runner-up finishes (2)[change | change source]

Year Championship Opponent in Final Score in Final
1956 U.S. Championships United States Shirley Fry Irvin 6–3, 6–4
1957 Australian Championships United States Shirley Fry Irvin 6–3, 6–4

Women's and mixed doubles (11)[change | change source]

Wins (6)[change | change source]

Year Championship Event Partner Opponents in Final Score in Final
1956 French Championships Women's doubles United Kingdom Angela Buxton United States Darlene Hard
United States Dorothy Head Node
6–8, 8–6, 6–1
1956 Wimbledon Women's doubles United Kingdom Angela Buxton Australia Fay Muller
Australia Daphne Seeney
6–1, 8–6
1957 Australian Championships Women's doubles United States Shirley Fry Irvin Australia Mary Bevis Hawton
Australia Fay Muller
6–2, 6–1
1957 Wimbledon (2) Women's doubles United States Darlene Hard Australia Mary Bevis Hawton
Australia Thelma Coyne Long
6–1, 6–2
1957 U.S. Championships Mixed doubles Denmark Kurt Nielsen United States Darlene Hard
Australia Bob Howe
6–3, 9–7
1958 Wimbledon (3) Women's doubles Brazil Maria Bueno United States Margaret Osborne duPont
United States Margaret Varner Bloss
6–3, 7–5

Runner-ups (5)[change | change source]

Year Championship Event Partner Opponents in Final Score in Final
1956 Wimbledon Mixed doubles United States Gardnar Mulloy United States Shirley Fry Irvin
United States Vic Seixas
2–6, 6–2, 7–5
1957 Wimbledon Mixed doubles Australia Neil Fraser United States Darlene Hard
Australia Mervyn Rose
6–4, 7–5
1957 U.S. Championships Women's doubles United States Darlene Hard United States Louise Brough Clapp
United States Margaret Osborne duPont
6–2, 7–5
1958 Wimbledon Mixed doubles Denmark Kurt Nielsen Australia Lorraine Coghlan Green
Australia Bob Howe
6–3, 13–11
1958 U.S. Championships Women's doubles Brazil Maria Bueno United States Darlene Hard
United States Jeanne Arth
2–6, 6–3, 6–4

Grand Slam singles tournament timeline[change | change source]

Tournament 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 Career SR
Australia A A A A A A A F A 0 / 1
France A A A A A A W A A 1 / 1
Wimbledon A 3R A A A A QF W W 2 / 4
United States 2R 3R 3R QF 1R 3R F W W 2 / 9
SR 0 / 1 0 / 2 0 / 1 0 / 1 0 / 1 0 / 1 1 / 3 2 / 3 2 / 2 5 / 15

A = did not participate in the tournament

SR = the ratio of the number of Grand Slam singles tournaments won to the number of those tournaments played

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. Collins, Bud (2008). The Bud Collins History of Tennis: An Authoritative Encyclopedia and Record Book. New York, N.Y.: New Chapter Press. pp. 695, 703. ISBN 0-942257-41-3 .
  2. United States Tennis Association (1988). 1988 Official USTA Tennis Yearbook. Lynn, Massachusetts: H.O. Zimman, Inc.. p. 261.
  3. Celebrity Jews in the news
  4. "USTA To Honor Althea Gibson on Opening Night". usopen.org. 2007-08-15. http://www.usopen.org/en_US/news/articles/2007-08-15/200708151187195923532.html. Retrieved 2007-08-28.[dead link]
  5. Dillman, Lisa (2007-08-27). "Williams sisters part of Gibson tribute". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2007-10-04. http://web.archive.org/web/20071004211407/http://www.latimes.com/sports/tennis/la-sp-gibson27aug27,1,7412634.story?coll=la-headlines-sports-tennis&ctrack=1&cset=true. Retrieved 2007-08-28.
  6. Honoring Pioneers - Althea Gibson
  7. 1970 Len Immke Buick Open results
  8. Althea Gibson career record - at golfobserver.com

Other websites[change | change source]