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South Carolina Tennis Patrons Foundation

 

Althea Gibson


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ALTHEA GIBSON WAS BORN AUGUST 25, 1927 IN SILVER, SC.  THE RIGHT-HANDER GREW UP IN HARLEM, NY.  HER FAMILY WAS POOR, BUT SHE WAS FORTUNATE IN COMING TO THE ATTENTION OF DR. WALTER JOHNSON, A LYNCHBURG, VA PHYSICIAN, WHO WAS ACTIVE IN THE BLACK TENNIS COMMUNITY.  HE BECAME HER PATRON AS HE WOULD LATER FOR ARTHUR ASHE, THE BLACK CHAMPION AT FOREST HILLS (1968) AND WIMBLEDON (1975).  THROUGH DR. JOHNSON, GIBSON RECEIVED BETTER INSTRUCTION AND COMPETITION, AND CONTACTS WERE SET UP WITH THE USTA TO INTRODUCE HER TO THE ESTABLISHED TENNIS SCENE.

SHE WON 56 SINGLES AND DOUBLES TITLES DURING HER AMATEUR CAREER IN THE 1950'S BEFORE GAINING INTERNATIONAL AND NATIONAL ACCLAIM FOR HER ATHLETIC PROWESS ON THE PROFESSIONAL LEVEL IN TENNIS.

THIS TRAILBLAZING ATHLETE BECAME THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN TO WIN GRAND SLAM CHAMPIONSHIPS AT WIMBLEDON, THE FRENCH OPEN, THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN (DOUBLES) AND THE UNITED STATES OPEN IN THE LATE 1950'S, TOTALLING 11 MAJOR TITLES, EIGHT OF WHICH WERE AT GRAND SLAM VENUES.  GIBSON HAD A SCINTILLATING AMATEUR CAREER IN SPITE OF SEGREGATED OFFERINGS EARLIER IN THE DECADE.

IN 1957, SHE WAS THE FIRST BLACK TO BE VOTED BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS AS ITS FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR.  SHE WON THE HONOR AGAIN IN 1958.  AFTER WINNING HER SECOND U.S. CHAMPIONSHIP, SHE TURNED PROFESSIONAL.  IN ONE YEAR GIBSON EARNED A REPORTED $100,000 IN CONJUNCTION WITH PLAYING A SERIES OF MATCHES BEFORE HARLEM GLOBETROTTER BASKETBALL GAMES.

THERE WERE NO PROFESSIONAL TENNIS TOURS IN THOSE DAYS, SO GIBSON TURNED TO THE PRO GOLF TOUR FOR A FEW YEARS, BUT DIDN'T DISTINGUISH HERSELF.  SHE TRIED PLAYING A FEW EVENTS AFTER OPEN TENNIS STARTED IN 1968, BUT IN HER 40'S AND TOO OLD TO BEAT YOUNGER OPPONENTS.  GIBSON WORKED AS A TENNIS TEACHING PROFESSIONAL AFTER SHE STOPPED COMPETING.

GIBSON BECAME THE NEW JERSEY STATE COMMISSIONER OF ATHLETICS IN 1975, A POST SHE HELD FOR 10 YEARS.  SHE THEN SERVED ON THE NJ ATHLETICS CONTROL BOARD UNTIL 1988 AND THE GOVERNOR'S COUNCIL ON PHYSICAL FITNESS UNTIL 1992.  ON SEPTEMBER 28, 2003 AT THE AGE OF 76, ALTHEA GIBSON DIED IN EAST ORANGE GENERAL HOSPITAL.

THE ALTHEA GIBSON FOUNDATION WAS FOUNDED FOR THE PRIMARY PURPOSE OF IDENTIFYING, ENCOURAGING AND PROVIDING FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR URBAN YOUTH WHO WISH TO DEVELOP THEIR SKILLS AND TALENTS IN THE SPORTS OF TENNIS OR GOLF, AND HAVE DECIDED TO PURSUE A CAREER AS A STUDENT ATHLETE AT THE POST-SECONDARY LEVEL.

THE FOUNDATION ALSO EXISTS TO PERPETUATE THE LEGACY OF THE GREAT AMERICAN CHAMPION, ALTHEA GIBSON.

MS. GIBSON SERVED THROUGHOUT HER LIFE AS AN AMBASSADOR OF SPORTS.  THE FOUNDATION WILL CONTINUE HER WORK TO ENCOURAGE YOUNG PEOPLE TO UTILIZE SPORTS TO HELP IMPROVE UPON THE SOCIAL CONDITION OF URBAN AMERICA AND TO PROMOTE GLOBAL UNITY.

THE TITLE OF HER AUTOBIOGRAPHY, WRITTEN IN 1958, IS "I ALWAYS WANTED TO BE SOMEBODY."  TO TENNIS FANS, SHE ALWAYS WILL BE SOMEBODY VERY SPECIAL.  THOUGH SHE DID NOT LOOK FOR THE ROLE OF PIONEER, SHE WAS ONE.  "IF IT HADN'T BEEN FOR HER," SAYS BILLIE JEAN KING, WINNER OF 12 GRAND SLAM SINGLES TITLES, "IT WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN SO EASY FOR ARTHUR (ASHE) OR THE ONES WHO FOLLOWED."

 

 
 
 
 
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