On This Date in 1957: American Althea Gibson won the women’s championship at London’s All English Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. It is known as the Wimbledon Championship. She was the first American of African heritage to do so. In the 1940′s she won the national black women’s championship numerous times. Tennis at the time was largely segregated but National Champion Alice Marble lobbied on Gibson’s behalf and in 1950 she was invited to play at the US Open. In 1956 she won the French singles and doubles title. After winning Wimbledon, she went on to win the US Open in September of 1957. In 1958, she won Wimbledon and the US Open again. She was the AP Female Athlete of the Year in 1957 and 1958. Ms. Gibson went on to become the first African American woman to be on the LPGA tour on which she played in 171 tournaments and is said to have regularly drove the ball over 300 yards.
Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball in 1947 and has his place in the annals of the Civil Rights movement. Heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis always seems to get overlooked for who he was as a man and as a catalyst toward the effort gain true civil liberties for all Americans. I believe a strong argument can be made that Joe Louis was a Civil Rights pioneer and may have paved the way for Jackie Robinson. However, the achievements of Althea Gibson should not be overlooked; like Louis, that has often been the case.
Althea Gibson was born on August 25, 1927 in Silver, South Carolina. The family moved to Harlem, NY where she lived in the ’30′s and ’40′s. Young Althea is said to have struggled in school, ran away from home on several occasions and was client of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children. She played table tennis at several New York public recreation programs where she won several tournaments. A fairly well known jazz musician named Buddy Walker took notice of her and thought she might do well at tennis so he took her to the Harlem River Tennis Courts where she learned the game. Donations were raised for her membership and lessons at the Harlem Cosmopolitan Tennis Club. By 1942, she had won the girls’ singles event at the American Tennis Association’s New York State tournament. Her family was poor but she caught the eye of Lynchburg, VA physician Dr. Robert Walter Johnson. Dr. Johnson was active in the tennis community and he became Althea’s patron. Later, Johnson did the same for another young African-American tennis player named Arthur Ashe. With Johnson’s support, Gibson won the American Tennis Association (ATA) tournaments, the all-black association, ten consecutive years and attended Florida A&M University.
Gibson was a product of the tough streets of Harlem and went on to be a guest at the Royal courts of Europe. Like Robinson, she was an inspiration to many, overcoming the racial prejudice of the time and paving the way for the likes of Venus and Serena Williams. Gibson won 56 singles and doubles titles as an amateur before her athletic prowess almost screamed for her to be on the pro tour. She won 11 Grand Slam titles with three doubles championships at the Australian Open and three consecutive French Open doubles titles in ’56, ’57 and ’58. As previously mentioned but worth repeating, she could also rose to the occasion playing singles as she won singles titles in 1957 and 1958 in both Wimbledon and the US Open in addition to her 1956 French Open singles championship. With all of her success and the hurdles she had to overcome, she still maintained a sense of class, dignity and sportsmanship. Her humility was exemplified by a famous quote (s) that she made: “No matter what accomplishments you make, someone helped you. “ She was a true American Champion on many levels.
Weather Bottom Line: There is a big fat ridge over the Eastern United States. Rain chances are pretty much off the board for a few days though by the end of the week we may not only have a frontal boundary approaching but also the remnant of an area of low pressure that has been messing up the oil clean up efforts should be getting caught up in the flow and coming up into the Ohio Valley. Our rain chances should go up sufficiently to bring what will be needed rainfall and perhaps a break in the excessive heat and humidity that we are having.