On This Day

althea gibson, althea gibson wimbledon, althea gibson tennis
New York World-Telegram & Sun/LOC
Althea Gibson during her semifinal match
at Wimbledon, July 4, 1957.

On This Day: Althea Gibson Wins Wimbledon

July 06, 2011 05:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
On July 6, 1957, Althea Gibson, the “Jackie Robinson of tennis,” became the first black tennis player to win Wimbledon. Gibson also won the doubles championship later in the day.

Gibson Dominant in Wimbledon Victory

Althea Gibson made history in 1950 when she became the first black tennis player—male or female—to be allowed to compete in the U.S. National Championship (U.S. Open). In the 1956, she became the first black player to win a grand slam when she triumphed at the French Open.

Gibson entered the 1957 Wimbledon Championships as one of the favorites. Though she “suffered from center-court nerves and the self-imposed responsibility of representing the whole Negro population of the United States of America,” wrote Joan Bruce in Sports Illustrated, she advanced to the final without losing a set.

The crowd at Wimbledon, wrote Bruce, “handled her with silent respect until the semifinal,” when she faced upstart English teenager Christine Truman. Gibson easily dispatched the crowd favorite, winning 6-1, 6-1.

In the final, attended by Queen Elizabeth, Gibson faced Darlene Hard, her doubles partner. “Miss Gibson was in rare form,” described Fred Tupper in The New York Times. “Her big service was kicking to Miss Hard’s backhand with such speed that Darlene could only lob it back. Behind her serves and her severe ground shots, Althea moved tigerishly to the net to cut away her volleys.”

Gibson needed less than an hour to complete her 6-3, 6-2 victory. She “fulfilled her destiny at Wimbledon today and became the first member of her race to rule the world of tennis,” wrote Tupper. Despite the historic achievement, “the center court raised only an apathetic cheer when the Queen presented her with the big gold salver and Darlene hugged her with sisterly enthusiasm,” reported Bruce.
Gibson and Hand won the women’s doubles championship later that day. After the tournament, Gibson received a warm welcome at the Wimbledon Ball and, as was customary for all winners, was given an honorary membership into the All England Club. “She was, as far as anybody knows, the first black woman to be a member,” writes Sports Illustrated’s Michael Bamberger. “Nobody cared. Or if people did, they pretended not to.”

Upon her return to the U.S., she was given a ticker-tape parade down Broadway in her native New York City. An estimated 100,000 lined up along the street to salute her.

Biography: Althea Gibson

Gibson won the U.S. Nationals later that year. The following year, she defended her Wimbledon and U.S. titles while also winning the Australian Open, giving her three of the four grand slam titles.

Learn more about Gibson’s trailblazing career and her post-tennis forays into golf and singing in her findingDulcinea profile.

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