Althea Gibson (1927-2003)
Jersey gem: Lived in East Orange
An athletic powerhouse, Althea Gibson made history as the first African-American to play in a tennis tournament. She rocked the tennis world at the 1956 French Open by clinching a Grand Slam title. Gibson’s unprecedented debut set the tone for her extraordinary professional career.
A year later, Gibson won both the Wimbledon singles and doubles titles and the Forest Hills singles title. Our Jersey Girl Great won a total of 11 Grand Slam tournament titles, 6 doubles titles and dozens of well-deserved accolades.
Gibson was voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in both 1957 and 1958. She was also inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Despite her record-breaking career in professional tennis, Gibson had only just begun to make sports history. She dove headfirst into the world of professional golf during the 1960s and became the first African-American player to compete in the women’s professional golf tour.
Amazingly, Gibson’s talents were also much more than athletic; a gifted vocalist and saxophone player, she signed a recording contract and released an album.
In anticipation of the upcoming Olympic Games, let’s recognize Althea Gibson as a goddess among women, an incredibly gifted and determined athlete, and a pioneer for her gender and race at a time filled with intense discrimination against women and African-Americans.