She was the first!
New York City is celebrating tennis icon Althea Gibson’s 95th birthday by renaming a Harlem street in her honor, The Grio reports.
Born in South Carolina in 1927, Gibson was the daughter of a sharecropper. They relocated to Harlem when she was just 2 years old, Gibson identifying a passion for tennis at an early age. She competed in local tournaments around Harlem, many of them sponsored by the American Tennis Association (ATA), an organization founded to promote and fund events for Black players. Gibson parlayed her skills into a college scholarship for tennis, perfecting her craft and making a name for herself.
The segregation in the U.S. for tennis players was a point of contention for Gibson and in 1950, former No. 1 tennis player Alice Marble spoke out about it. Marble criticized the sport for not allowing players like Gibson to compete at high levels and advocated for Gibson’s inclusion in a letter written to American Lawn Tennis. Marble’s advocacy worked and in 1951, Gibson made history as the first African American tennis player to receive an invitation to Wimbledon. Gibson would go on to break barriers in the sport, making history as the first Black player to win Wimbledon and later, the first at both the French and U.S. Opens, becoming the first Black Grand Slam Winner ever. In 1971, Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. The iconic tennis player passed away from respiratory failure in 2003 at the age of 76, however, her imprint still lives on.
On August 25th, what would have been Gibson’s 95th birthday, the city of New York celebrated her by renaming a street in her honor. Gibson was raised at the corner of Malcolm X Boulevard and West 143rd street, now known as Althea Gibson Way. Present at the ceremony was former president and CEO of the U.S. Tennis Association, Katrina Adams, who spoke about the importance of keeping Gibson’s legacy alive.
“It is imperative that we keep her name alive. It’s the next generation that needs to know that before Coco, Venus, Serena, Chanda, me, Lori, Zina, and Leslie, was Althea. Why? Because Althea came first,” said Adams.
This isn’t the first time Gibson’s been honored by her home state, with a statue in her likeness resting just outside of the Arthur Ashe Stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Still, her family believes the masses still aren’t yet aware of Gibson’s trailblazing achievements. Which is even more reason for them to continue pushing for her to be acknowledged, despite her just being family to them.
“She was just auntie to us. I mean, she wasn’t this big icon to us – but we loved her, remarked Sonia Melvin, Gibson’s great-niece.
Harlem plans to continue honoring Gibson, with talks of a statue set to be erected in her Harlem neighborhood.
Photo Courtesy of PhotoQuest/Getty Images