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First African-American To Win Wimbledon

February 1, 2012 by staff 

First African-American To Win Wimbledon, 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 referred to as “the Jackie Robinson of tennis” for breaking the color barrier. Gibson was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
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 continued to improve her tennis game while pursuing 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. She went to colege at Florida A&M.

In 1958, Gibson retired from amateur tennis. Before the open era began, there was no prize money, other than an expense allowance, and no endorsement deals. 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. 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. 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. In 1977, she challenged incumbent Essex County State Senator Frank J. Dodd in the Democratic primary for his seat. She came in second behind Dodd, but ahead of Assemblyman Eldridge Hawkins. After 10 years as commissioner, 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.

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