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This Day in History – September 8, 1957

Althea Gibson becomes first black athlete to win a US National Tennis Championship

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On this day in 1957, tennis champion, Althea Gibson became the first even African-American athlete to capture victory for a United States Tennis Championship. Gibson became the first black athlete to cross the color line of international tennis.

Gibson was born in Silver, South Carolina in 1927. She came into this world during the Great Depression and times of hardship for many Americans. After moving to Harlem, New York, Althea became skillful at paddle tennis. At age 12, she was the New York City women’s paddle tennis champion. In 1941, Gibson entered her first tennis tournament, and won it.

Getting noticed by Walter Johnson, Gibson soon gained access to increased skill competitions and later joining the United States Tennis Association (USTA).

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Due to racial and ethnic controversy during the time Althea attempted to compete in competitions, she was barred from entering the United States National Championships. In 1950, Gibson received an invitation to compete due to much lobbying.

In 1951, Gibson won her first international title in Jamaica. Later that year, Althea became the first African-American competitor at the famous Wimbledon tournament. Four years later in 1956, Gibson became the first African-American athlete to win a Grand Slam event. 1957 was perhaps the best year of Gibson’s professional career. She won the Wimbledon tournament, being the first black champion. In New York City, Gibson became just the second African-American to be honored with a ticker tape parade in the heart of the city.

Althea Gibson’s storied tennis career is one for the record books. In 1958, Gibson was voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press. Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. In 2003, Gibson passed away at the age of 76 in New Jersey.

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