Althea Gibson was honored with a ticker tape parade in New York City after she won the 1957 Wimbledon Women’s Singles Championship. Photo via Wikimedia
A block in Harlem was renamed on Thursday in honor of tennis star Althea Gibson on what would have been her 95th birthday. Gibson broke the color barrier in tennis, becoming the first Black player to compete in the U.S. National Championships and in the tournament at Wimbledon. The section of West 143rd Street between Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and Malcolm X Boulevard will be called “Althea Gibson Way.”
Streetview of 135 West 134rd Street, Althea Gibson’s childhood home © Google 2022
Born in South Carolina, Gibson moved to Harlem with her family at a young age. She started playing tennis at 14, and after just a year of playing, won her first New York State girl’s championship. Hosted by the American Tennis Association, the tournament was organized by black players due to the fact that the United States Lawn Tennis Association only accepted white participants.
She went on to win 10 straight ATA championships before trying to gain entry into the USLTA’s National Grass Court Championships in Forest Hills. After being denied in 1949, Forest Hills tennis champion Alice Marble wrote a letter to the editor of the ATA that criticized the USLTA’s bigotry and urged them to give Gibson the chance she deserved as a formidable opponent.
Over the course of her astounding career, Gibson won 11 Grand Slams, including her win at the 1956 French Open where she became the first person of color to win the title. In 1971, Gibson retired from tennis and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
For a short time, Gibson got into golf, once again breaking the color barrier and becoming the first black person to compete on the pro tour.
Gibson passed away at the age of 76 in 2003. Over the course of her lengthy career, she opened the doors for Black tennis players like Arthur Ashe and Venus and Serena Williams, and countless others.
Following a resolution approved by the local community board, the street co-naming was approved by the City Council last year. “Once given the chance, she became a champion, a role model – and an icon,” Manhattan Community Board 10 wrote. “She became somebody. Somebody special. Through her talents and tenacity, Althea Gibson opened doors and opened minds.”
Neighborhoods : Harlem