Names like Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Simone Biles, and Serena Williams might not sound unfamiliar to you in the world of athletes. Some people call them the greatest athletes of all time, while others believe they are the best in history. But some came before them!
October being a Black History Month, we can go back in history to look at some of the black sportswomen who may not be household names in 2021. But they were the heroines of the 20th century who broke their records or records of others in making history or paving the way for the legends we celebrate today. While some of their stories could be forgotten, others are probably not told well enough.
One of the most significant figures in history is Althea Gibson, the first black woman in history to win a tennis tournament in 1957, making her the first black Wimbledon champion. At only 12 years, Gibson was the New York City Women’s champion, where the event’s organizer spotted her talent and recruited her to the Cosmopolitan Club. The club was private and mostly consisted of the black middle class in Harlem. In the club, she trained and acquired a lot of skills in playing tennis when racial segregation was rampant. Since the blacks could not compete in the US National Champions, they formed American Tennis Association (ATA), where Gibson won 10 titles in ATA between 1947 and 1956. A magazine article by Alice Marble questioned why Gibson was denied the chance of playing in the US Nationals in 1950, yet her performance was outstanding. After some resistance from the organizing committee, she was finally allowed to play in 1950.
Gibson was thriving in 1951 and was selected among the players who would be participating in the Wimbledon, becoming the first black woman to have ever participated in such an event. This was not the peak for her because she kept winning and thriving in the 1956 French champions. This made her win one of the significant events in the sports.
The biggest year for Gibson was 1957 because she was considered the best female tennis player in the world. She backed this acknowledgment by winning Wimbledon, making her position in the history of tennis and achievements as a black woman solid.
This was such a huge achievement that even the Time magazine that could never include a black woman in their cover put Althea Gibson on the champion with a contagious smile in August, recognizing how she had proven that nobody is limited in the successes they can make.
Gibson defended her Wimbledon title in 1958. This time her wins were not limited to the singles victory because she won three straight doubles titles at the Champions between 1956 and 1958.
Interestingly, she also won the US champions that she had been banned from participating in a few years back. Gibson was not limited to playing tennis because she excelled in golf as well. In 1964, she was the first black woman to compete in golf’s LPGA tour.
Racism was the biggest barrier that Gibson faced in her career, but she proved to all women that nothing is impossible as long as we set our minds in the right direction.