Althea Gibson, the First African American to Break the Color Barrier in Tennis

Althea Gibson
“In the field of sports, you are more or less accepted for what you do rather than what you are.” –Althea Gibson. Illustration of Althea Gibson by Kirby Salvador.

Althea Gibson (1927–2003)

Often compared to Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson was the first African American to break the color barrier in tennis. The first person of color to win a Grand Slam title at the French Open, she went on to win ten more titles. Born in South Carolina, Gibson’s family moved to Harlem in the 1930s. After becoming New York City women’s paddle tennis champion at age 12, neighbors helped raise money for a membership and lessons at a local tennis club, sparking a decades long athletic career. She became the first African American to play in the women’s professional golf tour and became one of the first six inductees into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1980.

This feature originally appeared in the Play issue. For more inspiring stories from that issue, check out How Monopoly Was Invented: The Anti-Capitalist Board Game and Happy Hour with Ivy Mix.