20th Century Leaders

Althea Gibson

Credit: Althea Gibson Foundation


Althea Gibson (1927-2003) was born into a poor, working-class family in Silver, S.C. Between 1950 and 1958, Althea Gibson was the leading U.S. women’s tennis player and the only internationally ranked African-American player.

The family moved to Harlem when she was a young child. A self-described “truant and rebellious kid,” Gibson excelled at paddleball. Her athletic prowess brought her to the attention of a Virginia physician who was active in the black tennis community. He became her sponsor and helped her complete her education and guided her to the elite, white tournaments and international
prominence as a champion tennis player.

In 1950 she became the first African-American to play tennis at the U.S. Open. A year later she became the first to play at Wimbledon. During the two years that she won Wimbledon, 1957 and 1958, Gibson was ranked No. 1 in America and in the world. In 1957 and 1958 she also won the singles title at Forest Hills. During her career she won more than 11 grand slam titles in singles and doubles.

Althea Gibson was the first South Carolinian to win the Wimbledon and U.S. Open tournaments. In addition, from 1968 to 1977 she was the first African-American to enter the LPGA, where she played in 171 tournaments.