July 6, 1957: Althea Gibson becomes first African American to win Wimbledon
Upon its start in 1877, Wimbledon showcased some of the best tennis players in the world. For many African Americans players, however, they were frightened to sign up for fear of backlash. One South Carolina native changed the game forever with their victory.
Taking the neighborhood by storm
At a young age, Althea Gibson found herself enamored with the game of tennis. While living in the Bronx, she managed to become paddle tennis champion at 12 years old. Gibson didn’t just bow out from the sport following such an astounding performance. Throughout the ’40s, she won three ATA (American Tennis Association) championships. Her work caught the eye of Robert Walter Johnson, who helped elevate her game. Unfortunately, her talents weren’t enough for some in the field. Racial discrimination got Gibson banned from the United States National Championships.
Winning titles overseas
Following immense backlash, Gibson was able to compete in the National Championships in 1950. While she lost in the second round, it forced her to look for competition elsewhere. The following year, she headed to Jamaica to win the Caribbean Championships. Months later, she became the first African American player to compete at Wimbledon. As expected, her nerves were at an all-time high. While she won the first two rounds, her time ended in round three thanks to Beverly Baker.
Going for the big one again
Gibson continued to rack up trophies following her Wimbledon loss. In 1956, she earned singles titles at the Italian Championships, Indian Championships, and Asian Championships. Gibson also partnered with Angela Buxton to claim doubles championships at the French Championship and Wimbledon. While she earned a Wimbledon title, it wasn’t enough. She wanted to go for the top title, and on July 6, 1957, she had her chance. That year, Gibson was the top seed, but she had serious competition in Darlene Hard. In the end, Gibson made history as the first African American to earn the singles title. “Althea Gibson paved the way for all women of color in sport,” Serena Williams said on Instagram. There’s no denying that Gibson is smiling down on the diverse sports landscape seen today.