Tennis, which first came to the United States in the late 19th century, by the middle of the 20th century had become part of a culture of health and fitness. Public programs brought tennis to children in poor neighborhoods, though those children couldnt dream of playing in the elite tennis clubs.
Dates: August 25, 1927 - September 28, 2003
One young girl named Althea Gibson lived in Harlem in the 1930s and 1940s.
Her family was on welfare. She was a client of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children. She had trouble in school and was often truant. She ran away from home frequently. .
She also played paddle tennis in public recreation programs. Her talent and interest in the game led her to win tournaments sponsored by the Police Athletic Leagues and the Parks Department. Musician Buddy Walker noticed her playing table tennis and thought she might do well in tennis. He brought her to the Harlem River Tennis Courts, where she learned the game and began to excel.
The young Althea Gibson became a member of the Harlem Cosmopolitan Tennis Club, a club for African American players, through donations raised for her membership and lessons. By 1942 Gibson had won the girls singles event at the American Tennis Associations New York State Tournament. The American Tennis Association - ATA - was an all-black organization, providing tournament opportunities not otherwise available to African American tennis players.
In 1944 and 1945 she again won ATA tournaments.
Then Gibson was offered an opportunity to develop her talents more fully: a wealthy South Carolina businessman opened his home to her and supported her in attending an industrial high school while studying tennis privately. From 1950, she furthered her education, attending Florida A&M University, where she graduated in 1953.
Then, in 1953, she became an athletic instructor at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Gibson won the ATA womens singles tournament ten years in a row, 1947 through 1956. But tennis tournaments outside the ATA