Althea Gibson, uploaded by espn.go.com.
Some have called Althea Gibson “the female Jackie Robinson“, and that’s pretty close. While the international tennis circuit didn’t have the same scrutiny as Major League Baseball, Althea was the first black athlete (of either gender) to participate in major tournaments. And not just participate — she won the French Open in 1956, and both Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals in both 1957 and 1958.
Uploaded by time.com.
During her tennis career, Althea won 11 Grand Slam championships. But this was during a time when one had to be an amateur to participate – no prize money was given, and no sponsorship deals were permitted. So at the age of 37, she joined the LPGA tour. Still, she wasn’t permitted to play on some Southern courses, and not permitted in the clubhouse of some who did allow her on the course. Despite taking the game up at a late age, she finished in the top 50 money winners for five consecutive years.
Althea’s talents were limited to athletics, either. She recorded an album of popular standards (Althea Gibson Sings), performed on the Ed Sullivan Show, and acted in a John Ford movie. Still, we remember her as a member of the International Tennis and International Women’s Sports Halls of Fame, as the AP Female Athlete of the Year in 1957 and 1958, and as the first black woman to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Time.
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