Althea Gibson: First African American Athlete To Win Wimbledon

Although Althea Gibson declared that she never considered herself a crusader, there is no question that she opened the doors for many others, especially for women of colour.

Manya Marwah
New Update
althea gibson

Image from International Tennis Hall Of Fame and Britannica

On July 6, 1957, Althea Gibson became the first African American to win the women’s singles title at Wimbledon and became the top female tennis player in the world. Since then, she is remembered as a pioneer in women's tennis who broke the prevalent racial barriers of the time. Her success in the 1950s helped pave the way for future generations of African American athletes, making her a significant figure in the history of American athletes. 



Growing up in New York City, Gibson reportedly showed signs of natural athletic prowess and tennis aptitude that could not be ignored. She originally played tennis under the umbrella of the American Tennis Association (ATA), the black equivalent of the United States Lawn Tennis Association at the time. At only 17 and 18 years old, Gibson began to capture junior national championships and in 1947 won her first ATA national women's title. This was the first of ten consecutive ATA national titles. 

Not only was she the first black athlete to win Wimbledon titles, doubles title in 1956, and singles in 1957, but she also dominated women's tennis by being the first African American athlete to secure the French (1956) and US (1957-58) singles titles. 

In 1957, Gibson became officially known as a trailblazer for African Americans in sports and was voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press, again, the first African American to receive the honour. She was the only African American woman to win a major Singles tennis title until Serena Williams captured the US Open singles title in 1999. 

A Trailblazer in Women's Tennis

Her career and life are celebrated as a turning point in the civil rights movement of the 1950s. Though her identity gave headway to the inclusion of women of colour in sports, her highly commendable achievements in the tennis arena also showcase genuine passion and dedication to the sport.


According to PBS, American tennis legend Billie Jean King stated that she used her tennis success as a platform for representation, but Althea Gibson, ''She just wanted to play.”

She published her biography, ''I Always Wanted To Be Somebody'' in 1958 and was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971, where her legacy still lives on.

Although she declared that she never considered herself a crusader, there is no question that she opened the doors for many others. She even tried golf, becoming the first black woman to compete on the pro tour. 

After she retired, she was inducted in 1971 into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She died in 2003 at the age of 77. In 2013, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in her honour. 


African American Women American tennis prodigy African American History