Althea Gibson Biography

( The First African American to Win a Grand Slam Title )

Birthday: August 25, 1927 (Virgo)

Born In: Clarendon County, South Carolina, United States

Althea Gibson was born in a poor family, but her financial conditions didn’t deter her from excelling in the world of tennis. Despite being a person of black origin, she stood out as a role model for women and sportspersons of African-American origin all over the world. At a time when black sportspersons were still in the novices, she stormed the tennis world. She started playing at a tender age and continued to do so till the world was forced to accept her. She became the first tennis player hailing from the African-American community to win a ‘Grand Slam’ title. She has been touted as one of the greatest players by former tennis greats such as Robert Ryland and Billie Jean King. She battled apartheid her entire life and struggled to make a difference in such conditions. At one point of time, she even contemplated leaving amateur tennis and joining the US Army. However, she changed her decision after being nominated for the US peace delegation for Asian nations. The tour greatly boosted her morale and she went on to register her win in the ‘US Open’ and ‘Wimbledon’ tournaments. The country still coming to terms with bigotry, received her with open arms on her victory. She later became an inspiration for players like Venus and Serena Williams
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Althea Neale Gibson

Died At Age: 76


Spouse/Ex-: Sydney Llewellyn, Will Darben

father: Daniel Gibson

mother: Annie Bell Gibson

African Americans African American Women

Height: 5'11" (180 cm), 5'11" Females

Died on: September 28, 2003

place of death: East Orange, New Jersey, United States

U.S. State: South Carolina

Notable Alumni: Florida A&M University

Grouping of People: Black Tennis Players

Cause of Death: Respiratory Infection

Diseases & Disabilities: Heart Attack

More Facts

education: Florida A&M University

awards: Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year

  • 1

    What was Althea Gibson's impact on the sport of tennis?

    Althea Gibson broke barriers as the first African American to win a Grand Slam title and paved the way for future generations of black athletes in tennis.
  • 2

    How did Althea Gibson overcome racial discrimination in her tennis career?

    Althea Gibson faced segregation and discrimination during her tennis career, but she persevered through talent and determination, ultimately breaking down racial barriers in the sport.
  • 3

    What challenges did Althea Gibson face in gaining recognition and acceptance in the tennis world?

    Althea Gibson faced challenges in gaining recognition and acceptance in the predominantly white tennis world due to racial prejudices and barriers, but she continued to excel and make her mark.
  • 4

    What inspired Althea Gibson to pursue a career in tennis?

    Althea Gibson was inspired to pursue a career in tennis after watching a local tennis tournament and realizing her own talent and passion for the sport.
  • 5

    How did Althea Gibson's success in tennis contribute to the civil rights movement?

    Althea Gibson's success in tennis as a black athlete helped to challenge segregation and discrimination in sports, making significant contributions to the broader civil rights movement.
Childhood & Early Life
Born in Clarendon County, South Carolina, on August 25th 1927, to cotton farmers Daniel and Annie Bell Gibson, Althea was the eldest of all her siblings, which included three sisters and a brother, apart from her. The rest of her siblings were born in Harlem, a place where the family migrated when the great depression affected the rural farmers.
As a child, she often didn’t turn up at school, but developed a strong liking towards sports.
Her family resided close to the area which belonged to the ‘Police Athletic League’, and was meant for sport-related activities. This was where she learnt to play paddle tennis, and by 1939 she went on to win the New York City’s ‘Women Paddle Tennis championship’.
Continue Reading Below
Having established herself as a pro in paddle tennis in her neighbourhood, Althea’s talent was noted by musician Buddy Walker. He encouraged her to play tennis and thus began Gibson’s tryst with the sport.
She put up an impressive show at the recreational games, which was organized by the local authorities. This led to her enrolment to the ‘Cosmopolitan Tennis Club’, Harlem, in 1940. Her family struggled to make ends meet and was unable to sponsor her membership. However, after realizing her potential, the families in her neighbourhood chipped in to raise funds for her membership.
This budding tennis player’s first rendezvous with glory happened in 1941, when she won the ‘New York State Championship’, an event organized by ‘American Tennis Association (ATA)’. The ‘ATA’ was an organization which sponsored and promoted African-American players in tennis. Her success in the tournament, gave this player the opportunity to hone her skills under the tutelage of physician Walter Johnson.
In 1944, and the year later, she emerged victorious in the girls category of the ‘ATA National Championship’.
She shifted base from Harlem to North Carolina in 1946, after the physician Hubert A. Eaton decided to offer her financial assistance. The same year, she reached the finals in the women’s category of the ‘ATA National Championship’, but lost the tournament.
However, she regained the lost title in 1947, and retained the honour for the next nine years.
Propelled by her ‘ATA’ success, Althea gained access to other important competitions, including the one conducted by ‘United States Tennis Association’. In the 1949 ‘National indoor Championship’ organized by ‘USTA’, she qualified for the quarter finals. She earned a full scholarship, on athletic grounds, from the ‘Florida A&M University’ the same year, after finally completing her primary education from ‘Williston High School’.
Despite being a gifted player, she went through a lot of hardships, as the world of tennis was gripped by the clutches of apartheid, and a lot of tournaments debarred black players from participating.
During this time, many of the tennis greats voiced their support for her, including ‘ATA’ officials and Alice Marble, who wrote an open letter disparaging the tennis fraternity’s discriminatory attitude towards black players. This letter caused quite a stir in the sports fraternity, and Gibson was called to participate in the ‘US Open’ tournament.
Continue Reading Below
Her participation received much national and international hype, as she was the first black competitor to have made it to the ‘US Open’ in 1950, and the ‘Wimbledon’ a year later.
She climbed the rank ladder steadily and registered her first international win during the ‘Caribbean Championships’ in 1951. By the next year, she had secured a place among the top ten players in the US.
She even did a brief stint as an athletic instructor at the ‘Lincoln University’, after her graduation from ‘A&M University’ in 1953.
While she was in a dilemma whether or not to be a part of the US Army, the ‘American Lawn Tennis Association’ selected her to be a part of the State Department’s goodwill delegation sent to Asian countries in 1955.
As a part of the six week tour, the delegation visited many countries of the Indian sub-continent.
With her towering height and long limbs, she became an expert of volley, and was known for her serves. In 1956, she won her first grand slam title in the ‘French Open’.
During the 1957 ‘Wimbledon’, she clinched the singles and the doubles title. She also won the ‘US Open’ title the same year. Her success was celebrated with a ticker tape parade in New York. She was also felicitated with the city’s highest civilian award, the ‘Bronze Medallion’.
The year 1957 was a glorious period in the life of Althea. Apart from the ‘US Open’ and ‘Wimbledon’ wins, she triumphed at the ‘Australian Doubles’ and ‘US Mixed doubles’ events. She also won the runners up trophy in the ‘Australian Singles’, ‘US Doubles’, and ‘Wimbledon Mixed Doubles events’.
The year 1958, saw her successfully defending her ‘US Open’, ‘Wimbledon singles’ as well as the ‘Wimbledon Doubles’ titles. With her national and international wins tallying up to 56, she retired from amateur tennis at the age of 31.
Continue Reading Below
As in the times before the ‘Open’ era of tennis, the players were not entitled to any prize money. She had to take up promotional events and exhibition matches to keep herself afloat.
She forayed into the entertainment industry in the year 1959, when her first album ‘Althea Gibson Sings’ with the label ‘Dot Records’ was released. She also worked as a sports commentator and took to print and TV ads during this time.
In 1964, she again dazed the world by participating in the ‘Ladies Professional Golf Association’ (LPGA) tour. Althea became the first African-American woman to participate in the sport. Her athletic prowess helped her in the game, but she couldn’t match up to her glorifying tennis feats.
Though she faced criticism for being a black, Althea never let the bigotry come in her way. She retired from the sport in 1978, with a career best ranking of 27.
The tennis player made a comeback to tennis when the open era finally arrived, but she had lost her agility and strength by the time, and could not fare well against young competitors.
Over the next decade, she also took to coaching upcoming tennis players and got involved in various social causes revolving around tennis. She also held the post of New Jersey's Athletic Commissioner in 1976. She also worked on the supervisory body for the Governor’s council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
Awards & Achievements
In the years 1957- 58, Althea was ranked number one amongst the women belonging to the United States and from across the World. She was honoured as the ‘Female Athlete of the Year’ by the Associated Press.
Gibson’s contribution to tennis was appraised, when she was inducted into the ‘International Tennis Hall of Fame’ in 1971.
This sportswoman was honoured by the 'National Collegiate Athletic Association' with the ‘Theodore Roosevelt Award’ in 1991. It was for the first time since the inception of the award that a female was receiving the honour.
Continue Reading Below
Personal Life & Legacy
Althea married William Darben in 1965. They were introduced to each other through Rosemary Darben, a tennis player who also happened to be the tennis player’s best friend. The eleven-year-old marriage ended in divorce.
Althea entered the wedlock again in 1983. This relationship, with Sydney Llewellyn, her one time tennis coach, also culminated in divorce five years later. Despite two marriages, she had no children of her own.
This iconic tennis player succumbed to respiratory problems and bladder infections on September 28th, 2003. She was also a victim of a heart attack, but managed to survive it.
To commemorate Gibson's contribution to sports, the United States Postal Service released a postage stamp in August 2013.
Facts About Althea Gibson
Althea Gibson was not only a trailblazer in tennis, but she also excelled in other sports such as golf and even became the first African American woman to join the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).
In addition to her athletic achievements, Althea Gibson was also a talented singer and performed at various venues, showcasing her versatile talents beyond sports.
Althea Gibson's impact on the world of tennis extended beyond her playing days, as she later became a tennis instructor and mentor to aspiring young players, inspiring future generations of athletes.
Despite facing discrimination and adversity throughout her career, Althea Gibson remained resilient and focused on breaking down barriers for African American athletes in the predominantly white sport of tennis.
Althea Gibson's pioneering efforts in tennis paved the way for future generations of African American athletes to compete at the highest levels of the sport, leaving a lasting legacy that continues to inspire athletes today.

See the events in life of Althea Gibson in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Althea Gibson Biography
- Editors,

People Also Viewed

Serena Williams Biography
Serena Williams
Venus Williams Biography
Venus Williams
Naomi Osaka Biography
Naomi Osaka
Andre Agassi Biography
Andre Agassi
Coco Gauff Biography
Coco Gauff
John McEnroe Biography
John McEnroe
Billie Jean King Biography
Billie Jean King
Martina Navratilova Biography
Martina Navratilova