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Discussion Starter #1
This is overdue. Althea broke the color barrier in tennis and became the first African-American to win a major at the 1956 French.

Also check the 1950s thread for more on "Big" Al. She also has two recent books
out on her.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
A report from the Baltimore African-American on Al's first major triumph. LOL at her bra snapping and the French reaction.

Link:

http://www.blackpressusa.com/history/Article_Archive.asp?week=21&Article=1&NewsID=621


Full article:

1956 – Althea Gibson Wins French Open
Baltimore Afro-American, June 2, 1956

Long before there was Arthur Ashe, or the Williams sisters, Althea Gibson made her mark on professional tennis as its first African-American champion and she bore the burden of her race in the reactions of the largely white crowds in the stands.

PARIS, France – Althea Gibson completed her sweep of pre-Wimbledon Tennis tournaments Saturday, by capturing the Women’s Singles Finals of the Paris Championships at Roland Garros Stadium.

A crowd of 12,500 saw Miss Gibson conquer Angela Mortimer, of Great Britain, 6-0, 12-10, to gain her 13th title – and 7th in succession – since embarking on a tour of Asia and Europe last December.

The straight set victory over Miss Mortimer served to erase the only setback the New York star suffered on the entire junket. Angela defeated Althea in India at the outset of the trip, and over the years had been the victor in all three of her previous meetings.

To attain the finals in this last buildup tournament before the celebrated Wimbledon championships, Miss Gibson had been forced to overcome a series of unfavorable crowd reactions and fight off a mild case of personal bitterness.

In her Friday semi-finals with Angela Buxton, of Great Britain, the slender Harlem racqueter ran into vocal criticism she had not expected.

Although she realized that the assemblage of 1,000 partisans would understandably be rooting for her European rival, Miss Gibson was visibly annoyed when the Frenchmen booed her scoring rallies and loudly applauded her errors.

The climax was reached, however, when Althea accidentally broke a shoulder strap and the crowd roared.

Miss Buxton saved the day for European sportsmanship and restored Miss Gibson’s calm by rushing immediately to Althea’s side and escorting her to the dressing room.

Miss Gibson then went on to take the match, 2-6, 6-0, 6-4.

Earlier, the American ace had beaten another British Wightman Cup team member, Shirley Bloomer, 6-2, 6-1.

The Misses Mortimer and Buxton also are on the English cup squad
 

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I just realized while going through my pics that there wasn't a collection of Althea Gibson photos all in one thread, so here's a few I have:











(P.S.- notice the foot-fault!:lol: )
 

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And a rather grainy scan of a photo of Althea hitting a backhand volley at Wimbledon:

 

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excerpt from "The Reluctant Ambassador", by Virginia Wade (Ladies of the Court):


It was fashionable to be an outsider in the fifties. You existed on coffee and cigarettes, which you consumed inside smokey jazz clubs, and your main item of dress was a black polo neck jumper. You admired bohemians, the homeless and rebels against society, though you were too busy reading about all these people in existentialist novels to do any rebelling yourself. Althea Gibson too was an outsider in the 1950s, but she did it the unfashionable way. She was black...
...Tennis gave Althea Gibson a discipline she had never had before. Wild and lawless, she had lived a feckless life in New York, sometimes at home, sometimes in the care of the Welfare Department, sometimes just riding the subway round and round at nights. Through tennis she found that her aggression and vitality could actually be useful to her rather than plunge her into trouble at the time. She grew to welcome the restraints of tennis, which created the perfect setting for her qualities to shine. "After a while I began to understand that you could walk out onto the court like a lady, all dressed up in immaculate white, be polite to everybody, and still play like a tiger and beat the liver and lights out of the ball. I remember thinking it was kind of like a matador going into the bull ring, beautifully dressed, bowing in all directions, following the fancy rules to the letter, and all the time having nothing in mind except sticking that sword into the bull's guts and killing him as dead as hell. I probably picked up that notion from some movie I saw."
 

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Check out the contortion on this overhead smash- the ball is obviously not coming back!


 

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One more backhand volley:


 

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Discussion Starter #8
These are great pics Jeff. Your one comment on the foot-fault picture brings to mind one of Althea's problems, because in the 1950s the foot fault rules were a bit different. I remember reading in one match how she was called on foot faults 17 times.

Her overhead was lethal. There is a picture somewhere of Althea actually UNDER the net with her feet going out the other side-she had hit a hard overhead and slipped on the grass; sliding into and under the net!
 

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Long time coming! Thx Rollo. Finally a thread for our first champ! You see all those threads in BFTP and you wonder what happened to Althea?
 

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Hi Bandabou-:)

I hope she does get more attention-both for her game and how important she was to tennis. There are a lot a books out about Althea these days ("The Match" is in most US book stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble), and even one about her coach Robert Johnson, who also mentored Arthur Ashe. You can usually get her autobiography on EBAY or alibris too-if someone else buys them I'd love to discuss.


P. S. I bumped up the 1950s thread-which also has Althea related posts.
 

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bandabou said:
Long time coming! Thx Rollo. Finally a thread for our first champ! You see all those threads in BFTP and you wonder what happened to Althea?
The problem is her career was in the 50s. You won't find a whole lot of discussion about players before Maria Bueno and Margaret Court because there just aren't a whole lot of people who have seen video of players pre-1960. Like Suzanne Lenglen, I have only ever seen short clips of Gibson in action- never a complete match, so, nothing happened to Althea- it's just difficult to talk about the tennis of a player you've never seen play.

P.S.- I'd really like to talk about Maureen Connolly with a better understanding of how she played, but again, there ain't a whole lot of footage available.
 

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This is a rather sad article from today's UK Sunday Telegraph.

BELATED TRIBUTE FOR "BARRIER-BREAKER" GIBSON

The first black tennis player to win a US Open is commemorated at long last by Clive White


Fifty years too late, black and white Americans alike will, here at the Arthur Ashe Stadium tomorrow night, celebrate the life of Althea Gibson, the first black player to win the US Open.

Ostracised by her fellow countrymen, Gibson died a bitter woman four years ago, but not a penniless one, thanks to the efforts of her life-long friend, the Briton Angela Buxton, with whom she won a Wimbledon doubles title in 1956.

One of the few people alive who knew Gibson intimately, the 73-year-old Buxton has been asked by the United States Tennis Association to fill in the gaps in their two-time US Open champion's resume. Much more surprisingly, she has also been asked, so that the organisers may round off their host of Afro-American pioneers, if she could bring the national security adviser Condoleeza Rice to the party.

The unlikely coming together of the British Jew and the black American at Wimbledon has been the subject of a book and possibly shortly a film, entitled, The Perfect Match, which a former protege of Buxton's, Rachel Violet, the daughter of the former Manchester United player Denis Violet, is hoping to make.

Though the victim of racial prejudice, Gibson didn't like to talk about it, said Buxton. "It may sound strange because we were both stuck right in the middle of it, but we never discussed it."

After an initial meeting in India in 1955 the two became firm friends, so much so that Buxton was one of the few people the American would confide in.

"Because she was penniless until the last few years of her life, because she was so ill, she phoned me one day to say she was going to do herself in," said Buxton. "I said 'just hold on a minute I'm cooking some onions. Let me switch that off and we'll talk about it'."

In 1995 Buxton spent $1,500 of her own money to feed Gibson and pay her rent before making an appeal on her behalf in Tennis World, highlighting her hardship. "I didn't want my name on it in case she got cross with me and wouldn't speak to me," she said. "She could get on her high horse very easily. Eventually she received oddles of money. She was a millionaire by the time I'd finished. Money came in from all over the world in different currencies. We spent days just opening up the envelopes from people who remembered her."

Buxton thought athletic Gibson was comparable to Alice Marble and Billlie Jean King and better than even the Williams sisters, who owe her so much for Breaking Barriers, as tonight's celebration is entitled. "I'm just very, very sorry she's not around to appreciate it," said Buxton.


What a sad story. I don't think we really appreciate just how little money there was in the game pre-Open era.

It makes me wonder how much a player perhaps not right at the top but maybe around the top 20 for several years might leave the game with. Considering coaches etc, maybe it mightn't be as much as one might think, though

It is nice to see her being honoured - maybe she'll be up there looking on.
 

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What a sad story. I don't think we really appreciate just how little money there was in the game pre-Open era.

It makes me wonder how much a player perhaps not right at the top but maybe around the top 20 for several years might leave the game with. Considering coaches etc, maybe it mightn't be as much as one might think, though

It is nice to see her being honoured - maybe she'll be up there looking on.
I am sure it's true that there was little money in the early women's pro-game, but I think I read in Althea's case that she was actually ripped off by either a husband or an accountant, which is the reason she was penniless. Not sure about any details, but I think she made some very, very good money from pro-tennis, mainly as the warm up act for the Harlem Globetrotters, TV appearances as a singer and also from Pro-Golf. I think it was unscrupulous people around her who took it all.
 

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Congratulations Althea Gibson for living a full life and finally being recognized even though in my opinion, it is 50 years overdue
 

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In 1995 Buxton spent $1,500 of her own money to feed Gibson and pay her rent before making an appeal on her behalf in Tennis World, highlighting her hardship. "I didn't want my name on it in case she got cross with me and wouldn't speak to me," she said. "She could get on her high horse very easily. Eventually she received oddles of money. She was a millionaire by the time I'd finished. Money came in from all over the world in different currencies. We spent days just opening up the envelopes from people who remembered her."
Does anyone know which article this is referring too? I always thought of Althea as a larger than life pioneering champion along with Wilma Rudolph. She was very important to me as a young kid. I'm glad that she is being honored tomorrow. In addition to the great African American "first" being honored, I hope that the tennis world shows in in mass and pays this great tennis champ her due respects as well. I wish I could be there.
 

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I hope Maria Bueno is there? I never heard her interviewed about Althea Gibson at all. It was because of Maria that Althea almost boycotted the 1958 U.S. Nationals because the USLTA made a unwritten rule that only Americans can play with each other in doubles. That soon changed but not the resentment of the USLTA towards Althea onwards.
 

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Does anyone know which article this is referring too?
I am not sure it was an article per se. Angela contacted everyone in the media she could think of and told Althea's story to anyone who'd listen. The press all over the world picked it up and ran a story, but I don't think it was a syndicated article necessarily. Angela is actually quite good at getting publicity. I don't know if that's what she did after she stopped playing tennis. I remember in the 70's and 80's she was always on British TV around Wimbledon time complaining how the All England Club had snubbed giving her membership because she was Jewish. It got really boring hearing her trot the same story out year after year. When you think what a relatively unremarkable player she was, she certainly managed to keep herself in the news.
 
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