Women's Tennis Pioneer Gibson Has Died
(USTA NEWS) -
Althea Gibson, a sports pioneer who
broke the color barrier in tennis in the 1950s as the first black woman to
Gibson had been seriously ill for several years and died at
Gibson was the first black to compete in the
"Who could have imagined? Who could have thought?'' Gibson said in 1988 as she presented her
"Here stands before you a Negro woman, raised in Harlem, who went on to become a tennis player ... and finally wind up being a world champion, in fact, the first black woman champion of this world,'' she said.
The eldest of five children, Gibson was a self-described "born athlete'' who broke racial barriers, not only in tennis but also in the LPGA. She even toured with the Harlem Globetrotters after retiring from tennis in the late 1950s.
But it was in tennis that Gibson had her greatest success. She picked up the game while growing up in
Gibson won her first tournament at 15, becoming the
She spent her high school years in
"No one would say anything to me because of the way I carried myself,'' Gibson said. "Tennis was a game for ladies and gentleman, and I conducted myself in that manner.''
She attended Florida A&M on a tennis and basketball scholarship, and then began her ascent in the American Tennis Association, founded in 1916 for black players.
In 1950, she was the first black to play in the National Grass Court Tennis Championships, the precursor of today's U.S. Open, coming within a point of beating
She broke the racial barrier at
A year later, she blossomed during a nine-month tour sponsored by the U.S. State Department, winning 14 tournaments, including the French and Italian championships, and reaching the finals in the three she did not win. She also captured her first women's doubles championship at
Although beaten at
Gibson was named Woman Athlete of the Year in 1957 and 1958. Following her 1957
More than 30 years passed before another black woman, Zina Garrison, reached the final at
``It would be foolish to forget Althea Gibson, also. She was the first,'' Williams said in 2002 after becoming the first black tennis player at No. 1 since Arthur Ashe.
Gibson retired from the game soon after her 1958
"If she had been a half-step later (in her tennis career), she would have been a multimillionaire,'' said longtime friend and former
She briefly tried singing, then signed a $100,000 deal to play in exhibition tennis matches before Globetrotter games in 1959.
In 1960, she took up golf in 1960 and became the first black woman on the LPGA tour in 1962, but won no tournaments and earned little money.
She was inducted into numerous halls of fame. In 1975, she became state commissioner of athletics in
Her layoff from the council marked a turn in Gibson's fortunes. In recent years, the former champion became ill and suffered two cerebral aneurysms and a stroke.
Her finances also declined, and Gibson isolated herself as she struggled on Social Security, not wanting anyone to see her condition.
When news of her situation spread in 1996, admirers around the country held fund-raisers and benefits to ease Gibson's financial burdens.
Letters with cash and checks also began to pour in, including one with two $100 bills from Mariann de Swardt, a ranked South African tennis player.
"I focused on your game when I learned how to play, and I wanted to thank you,'' the note read.
"She was one of our heroes, and we wanted her to spend her remaining days in dignity,'' said Pam Hayling Hoffman of Atlanta, a fund-raiser whose father was Gibson's doctor in New Jersey in the late 1950s.
"She was a great woman, who suffered from racism and yet never, never became angry even though it had to have hurt her a great deal,'' Hoffman said. "It's important for all people who care about human dignity to salute her and recognize her greatness.''
Gibson was born
Annual Coca-cola Circle City Classic will be held
150,000 people from across the country travel to the city of
1983, during construction of the RCA Dome, there was a significant effort
mounted to develop events and activities to be conducted in the new
facility. The Mayor's Office and a blue ribbon committee of community
leaders worked to attract events that eventually included a Chicago Bears
pre-season game, college football games featuring Notre Dame versus Purdue
and Indiana versus
Mayor's committee funded a fact-finding trip to the Bayou classic held in
40,000 spectators attended the first game featuring Grambling versus
the eighteen years of the organization's existence, there have been
changes, but the original objectives (demonstrating the strength of the
African-American consumer; highlighting the advantages at historically
black colleges and universities and providing scholarships for students)
have not changed. Professional staff has been added, volunteer numbers
have increased significantly and fans come in greater numbers from farther
away to be a part of the Circle City Classic weekend. From the beginning,
Circle City Classic leadership has placed an emphasis on developing a
quality unmatched by "other classics". In 1999, Black Voice.com
magazine recognized the Circle City Classic as our nation's top, Black
college football classic. The criteria cited for this selection included
the quality of game match-ups, ancillary events, and community support.
classic organization established a loyal fan base with a goal of selling
out the stadium by the 10th anniversary. The first sold out event occurred
in 1990, the classic's seventh year of existence. Most of the attendance
growth over those years came from
Last updated: October 3, 2003
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