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Facts About Althea Gibson: 8 Incredible Things You Probably Didn’t Know

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Many know Althea Gibson for her tennis, but did you know she also played golf? She was the first African-American woman to play both sports. Her role was important in opening the doors for players of color. Gibson might not be as prolific as Serena Williams but her pioneering role sealed her place in history. Learn more facts about Althea Gibson here.

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A video looking through the career of Althea Gibson. Video Credit: History

Althea Gibson Could Only Play When Invited

One of the most interesting facts about Althea Gibson is that she had to receive an invitation from the United States Tennis Lawn Association to compete at the highest level. She won 10 tournaments, and despite that, she wasn’t allowed to play at the National Grass Court Championships, which is the U.S. Open

Gibson was ineligible because she hadn’t played in invitational grass court games. 

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Didn’t Make a Living Playing Tennis

Tennis players today earn so much money from playing. Unfortunately, one harsh fact about Althea Gibson is that she didn’t make much during her time because players weren’t allowed to earn. Instead, sponsors paid them to attend events, but that wasn’t enough to live on. 

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First Black Player in the U.S National Tennis Championships

spotcovery-Althea Gibson in 1956 by Fred Palumbo.
Althea Gibson in 1956 by Fred Palumbo. Source: Wikimedia licensed by Public domain

Alice Marble penned an article in the American Lawn Tennis Magazine calling for Althea Gibson to receive the same opportunities as white players. 

She was invited to the Eastern Grass Court Championship in 1950 and qualified for the U.S. National Tennis Championships. This made her the first black player to play at the tournament. Gibson was eliminated in the second round. 

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Joined a Black Tennis Club in Harlem 

Althea was talented at many sports. One of them was tennis. When she lived in Harlem and played in the playground in front of her house, Buddy Walker, a supervisor from the Police Athletic League who organized the playground, spotted her. 

He encouraged her to pursue the game and took her to the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club. This is where she honed her skills and became prominent within the black community. She participated in several tournaments meant for black players. Through this, she got sponsors who enabled her to keep playing.

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Played Ping-Pong

The one fact about Althea Gibson you might not know is that she played ping-pong. She moved to Harlem with her family when she was three years old. 

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They lived in a building on a play street where the road would be closed and converted into a playground for kids. One of the games set up was ping-pong, which Althea played. She rose through the ranks and became a ping-pong champion.

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Played Golf

A review of Althea Gibson’s golf career. Video Credit: Golf Channel

After she retired from tennis, Althea Gibson played golf. She joined the Englewood Golf Club in New Jersey and was the first black player to do so. In 1963, she joined the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and played in 17 tournaments. 

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Wanted a Career in Music

Despite her love and dynamism in sports, Althea Gibson was passionate about music. Former boxer Sugar Ray Robinson bought her a saxophone. She went to the Apollo Theatre to practise and perform. Her efforts paid off when she finished second in a competition, which demonstrates prowess.

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11-Time Grand Slam Champion

This list of facts about Althea Gibson won’t be complete without looking at her grand slam wins. In 1956, Gibson won her first major, the French Open, against Angela Mortimer. In the following years, she won two Wimbledon and U.S. Championship single titles. 

Her six other grand slam titles came in the mixed doubles (U.S. Championships) and doubles (she won all but the U.S. Championship). In the former, she won five and the latter one. 

The facts about Althea Gibson’s career are inspiring but sad. Although she created a path for black players in golf and tennis, she didn’t make money. Unfortunately, Gibson seems to be in the shadows of players like Serena Williams. 

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