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Plainclothes Division
6,350 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
For those who are wondering what I'm up to, it's an acknowledgement of some of the all-time greats, near-greats, or even those that were merely decent.

First, an explanation of how it works. As some of you may know, February is Black History Month in the U.S. This pertains to women's tennis in that there have been a number of very good black players since Althea broke the color barrier. I decided to pay tribute to them. However, I also decided to not use the whole month of February to do so because:

(a) it would be greedy to monopolize an entire month
(b) it would spread the subject matter too thin. I'm sure Stacey Martin is a nice person, but there's only so much you can say about her. Not really enough to devote a whole day/topic to
(c) I wanted this to serve as a template for future projects (not necessarily by me)

Expanding further on (c), I envision my little Black History Week (BHW in the title. Clever, eh? :)) serving as a model for, say, a Spanish History Week, or French, or Italian, or Hispanic/Latina, or Australian, etc. Virtually any cultural group could have their own one-week series of topics, not just by nationalities. Some could even be combined. For example, while there are enough top players in Japan's history to do their own week, the rest of Asia could be grouped into a week, with individual topics/days focusing on Indonesia, China, Thailand, Korea, etc.

As for the rules, well there aren't any iron-clad ones. Whichever poster(s) decide(s) to do a series can start at any time, even running concurrent with another series. (Although it might be best if no more than 2 were running at a time.) The topics should be posted by someone with a good bit of info available to them, and then the rest of us can chime in with whatever we have. I envision it being an exchange of information, whereby we can all learn something. It will truly be a board project, and will involve anyone who wants to participate. Sound good? (It's what we do anyway. This will just organize it.)

What this project involves:
It's a week-long project (7 parts). It focuses mainly on the black players who have reached the top 10. Coincidently, there have been 7. I have arranged them in chronological order. However, because of the brevity of their careers, I have combined Venus and Serena into one topic. This frees up the final installment as a general summary of the others who didn't make it quite as high, with some bio info and notes about them.

Stay tuned. While you're reading this, I'll be typing the first part: Althea Gibson. Be right back.

Plainclothes Division
6,350 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Althea Gibson
Born: August 25, 1927, Silver, SC, USA
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 145 lbs
Highest rank: 1

Career titles: 1947-56 ATA Champion; 1955- 16 titles on State Department tour, including Indian National and Asiatic Women's Chps.; 1956- German Covered Courts, Italian Chps., French Chps., Los Angeles, Mexico City; 1957- New South Wales, South Australia Chps., Surbiton, Manchester, Heckenham, Wimbledon, US Clay Chps., US Chps.; 1958- Wimbledon, US Chps.

Other: Wightman Cup team, 1957-58. Record of 3-1 in singles, 2-0 in doubles.

Partial Grand Slam Record
Aus Fre Wim US
1950 2r
1951 QF
1953 QF
1954 1r
1956 W QF F
1957 F W W
1958 W W

Other info
  • Won ATA Championships 10 straight years, 1947-56. (after losing 1946 final.
  • First tournament on the main circuit was the 1948 Eastern Indoor Chps. in New York. Reached quarters. Returned in 1949 and reached final.
  • First black player to play in a Grand Slam tournament at Forest Hills, 1950.
  • First black player to win a Grand Slam tournament at Paris, 1956.
  • First black player to reach world #1 ranking.
  • First black player to represent the US in international competition.
  • Returned to high school in her 20's and graduated.
  • Graduated from Florida A&M University.
  • Entered the singles qualifying draw at the 1973 US Open, at age 46. Withdrew before first match.

If anyone has other info, feel free to add it. (And if anyone has my massive, 4-part Althea bio from the other board, you can post that, too. I'M certainly not typing it again.)

Diosa Contable
2,945 Posts
great idea!!

When my department madness of April is over and done with, I will try to do a Spanish one :D - although it will probably take less than a week to cover from Lili Álvarez to Marta Marrero ;) but this way I can indulge in my Arantxa-Conchita mania and make it look justified ;) :D

I think I remember that Althea bio you posted, Brian, unfortunately I didn't save it, but maybe one of the old posters did.

Anyone has a picture of Althea? I don't remember if there were any pics of her in the "you've come a long way" picture thread.

Such a pioneer! and 5'11''!!! wow! :D tall girl... hmmm... what happened in 1959? she quit when she was playing her best tennis?

802 Posts
Hi, Brian!

As for me, i think i can contribute with an "Italian Players" Chapter.
There were some threads on Italian tennis, recently, so there might be someone interested in.
(in spite of results!!!)

As for the "lost" post, can you tell me if it was in the "Achievements" thread?
'cos i saved most of that thread.
I might have it in my archive

R.I.P. Thank you!
25,876 Posts
Great idea Brian:)

I have World Tennis in some of Althea's glory years-I'll try and post match results and titles.
BTW-"Heckenham" should read "Beckenham", and Althea couldn't have been a quarterfinalist in the 1951 Wimbledon(maybe I'm reading that chart wrong)-as 1955/56 was her first trip outside America.

Althea was so fast and athletic for her day --her pics bear this out. I've seen one pic of her where she ran up to a drop shot, slipped, and went feet first UNDER the net, getting all tangled up in it.

The rules for footfaulting were different in the 50's from today. I'm not sure how, but it was easier to footfault then, and it was one of Althea's big problems. She had over 10 footfault-doublefaults vs. Mo Connolly in losing
the US quarters 6-3 6-2 in 1953.

Team WTAworld, Senior Member
1,999 Posts
Great idea Brian.

I remember a ceremony at Wimbledon back in 1984 (?) to pay tribute to all the former female champions. When it was Althea's turn to receive her glass vase I recall how surprised I was at her height. She strode across center court taking big strides. Her smile lit up the arena. This wasn't just another "engagement", it was an honour. Her courtesy left a lot to be desired. :) She looked so happy waving and turning to the crowd. That smile never left her face. I have this on tape, but searching for it proved useless. :(

Althea tried her hand at acting and in 1959 (I believe) played a small part in a John Wayne movie.

R.I.P. Thank you!
25,876 Posts
She also tried professional singing. She used to sing at a lot of the player parties they used to have, real parties(not these dead sponsor parties they now have), where she wears a flower on her dress or in her hair Billie Holliday style. The singing career didn't take off, so she did a pro tour with "golden girl" Karol Fageros. Karol was the Anna Kournikova of her day. The ladies toured together with the Harlem Globetrotters. Tennis first-then the basketball.

After that Gibson did a stint as pro golfer-making at least enough to live on-though she never had the same success as in tennis. Althea was quite an all arounder!:)

3,402 Posts
Good idea. Maybe in the non-tennis forum there could be something like this for non-tennis history makers.

3,376 Posts

Great thread, and I look forward to further instalments. :)

So Althea claims a lot of "firsts" for black tennis players (male or female). What was her reception like on the tour? Obviously it would have been something of a shock for other (white) players, but was she generally accepted, or did she have to learn the real hard way.

Also out of interest, Brian you say Althea was the first black player to reach #1. Excuse my ignorance, but has any other black (female) player done this? I guess Evonne Goolagong might count?

R.I.P. Thank you!
25,876 Posts
I dug up my old tennis mags.

I was wrong about 1956 being her first Wimbledon. 1951 was her first-but she lost in round 3 to Bev Baker, not in the quarters.

Althea's 1957 record:

12 tournaments-11 titles won, 1 finalist.

Estimated 1957 record: 62-1(my best guess based on records).

After losing to old nemesis Shirley Fry in Australia(Shirley married and retired after Oz-making Althea VERY happy) Althea goes undefeated the rest of the year.

Aussie final: Fry d. Gibson 6-3 6-4.(ONLY DEFEAT OF 1957!)
Manchester(grass-June)beat Shilcock in final 6-3 6-4
Surbiton(grass-June) beats Long in final 8-6 7-5
Beckenham(grass-June) beats Hard in final 6-3 3-6 6-4
Wimbledon(grass-July) beats Hard in final 6-3 6-2
US Clay, Chicago(clay-July) beats Hard in final 6-2 6-3
Won both matches in Wightman Cup(hard courts-August)
US Nationals(grass-September) beat Brough in final 6-3 6-2
Pacific Southwest, LA(hard-September)beat Brough in final 6-36-1
Pacific Coast(hard-October) beat Brough in final 6-4 6-3
Denver(hard-October) beat Knode in final


Wimbledon was the prize of prizes in those days-and Althea cut back her schedule in 1957, entering only 12 events rather than the 30 or so of 1956. She flew to England for grass warnups played at the same time of the French . The French and US titles were big in those days, but Wimbledon was the only slam EVERY top ten woman entered until the late 1980s.

The other thing to notice is the season more or less ended after the US Nationals. In fact, year end world top 10 lists often came out in October or November:eek: Winters were used for rest and/or practive unless you went to Australia, which was considered a risky move in those days because it took so much time and energy.

I'm missing two events Gibson won early in the year.

She lost only 4 sets after Oz defeat.

Lost no sets in Wimbledon and US wins-her toughest matches in both were in the 1st round at 6-4 6-4. "Big Al's" US first round defeat got a big crowd, as she beat the Anna Kournikova of her day, platinum blonde Karol Fageros:

Althea got a big ticker-tape parade in New York after winning Wimbledon. I think she was the last tennis player to get this honor.

The press of the day called her "the first colored champion".

Althea got her big chance in 1950- when former champ Alice Marble wrote an open letter to American Lawn Tennis, the biggest US tennis mag of the day, challenging the USTA to let her play. The USTA denied not accepting Althea because she was black, it siad she hadn't "proved" herself. It was a Catch-22, because to prove herself she had to be able to play USTA events!

Part of Alice's letter.

"If tennis is a game for ladies and gentlemen, it's also time we started acting more like gentlepeople and less like sanctimonious hypocrites...."
"Should Althea not be given a chance to succeed or fail, then there is an uneradicable mark against a game to which I have devoted most of my life".

The letter shamed the USTA into taking her for the US Nationals.
In the second round she came up against #3 seed Louise Brough. A wild thunderstorm raged while Althea was ahead in the third set, knocking over an eagle statue on top of the stadium. Many saw it as an omen for change-for by pushing the #3 seed Al have indeed "proven" herself.

Al had lost the battle(losing the match at 8-6 after the rain delay, but she had won the war- from then she was allowed to play.

Plainclothes Division
6,350 Posts
Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I was in the middle of posting this reply yesterday, when the board went down for maintenance. Better late than never.

Looking forward to those Spanish, Italian, and Canadian threads.

Thanks for the info, Rollo. I figured there would be some details you could fill in.

I had meant to do a brief summary of her life story, but wanted to see if anyone had that old thread first.

Free, that question will be answered in part 2. :)

Regarding the catch-22 situation, Alice Marble had commented, "Miss Gibson is over a cunningly wrought barrel, and I can only hope to loosen a few staves."

As to Althea's reception on tour, it was mostly cool, albeit usually civil. The ones that were the friendliest to her were the Jewish players, who were also considered outcasts among the country club set.

Likewise, some of the fans were less than cordial, occasionally verging on hostility. After she lost the first set of her 2nd round match with Brough at the 1950 US Chps., a heckler started "cheering" on Brough by yelling "Knock her out of there! Knock her out of there!"

BTW, when these threads become inactive, perhaps the admins will stash them in the archives under the history forum.

1 Posts
Actually, Althea Gibson did not withdraw before her 1973 US Open qualifying match. She played me (Marcy O'Keefe). A group of spectators watched the match. I was winning 4-0 when Althea approached the net and told me she was stopping.
So the score actually was 4-0 retired. I went on to beat Lindsey Beaven of England in the first round of the Open and then lost to Llana Kloss of South Africa who lost to Margaret Court - I believe Margaret Court wond the tournmanet that year.
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