Game Makers
More than Champions
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"I always wanted to be somebody. If I made it, it's half because I was game enough to take a lot of punishment along the way and half because there were a lot of people who cared enough to help me."

— Althea Gibson

Tennis outfit, 1957
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Gibson wore this traditional Fred Perry tennis shirt and Ted Tingling skirt in the 1957 Wimbledon tournament.

— Gift of Althea Gibson

Althea Gibson
First Black Wimbledon Competitor and Champ

Althea Gibson's trail-blazing tennis career delivered a crushing defeat to segregation. The poor South Carolina girl learned to play championship tennis at recreation and club programs in Harlem, New York. Gibson's success in the all-black American Tennis Association (ATA) gave her the confidence she needed to pursue the sport. Gibson turned that opportunity into a launching pad to a college education and a career in tennis.

Gibson's dazzling performances at ATA tournaments and pressure from white tennis champion Alice Marble finally convinced the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association to cross the racial divide. In 1950, Gibson was the first African American woman to take to the court at the U.S. National Championships.

In 1951, Gibson was invited to compete at Wimbledon—the first black player in the British tournament's 84-year history. She soon dominated international women's tennis, capturing both the French singles championship and the doubles title at Wimbledon in 1956. The Wimbledon singles championship was, and still is, considered the crown jewel of tennis. When Gibson took that title in 1957 and 1958, she left no question that African Americans belonged in the world of tennis.

Name: Althea Gibson
Born: Silver, South Carolina, 1927–2003
  • First African American to play in U.S. Nationals, 1950, and at Wimbledon, 1951
  • First African American to win French Open Singles Championship, 1956
  • U.S. National Singles Champion, 1957, 1958
  • Wimbledon Singles Champion, 1957, 1958
  • Actress and singer
  • Civil rights activist

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National Museum of American History   Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service