50.03 -- Althea Gibson, Women's Tennis Player.
Althea Neale Gibson was an American tennis player and professional golfer, and one of the first Black athletes to cross the color line of international tennis. In 1956, she became the first African American to win a Grand Slam title (the French Championships). The following year she won both Wimbledon and the US Nationals (precursor of the US Open), then won both again in 1958 and was voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in both years. In all, she won 11 Grand Slam tournaments: five singles titles, five doubles titles, and one mixed doubles title. Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame. "She is one of the greatest players who ever lived," said Bob Ryland, a tennis contemporary and former coach of Venus and Serena Williams. "Martina [Navratilova] couldn't touch her. I think she'd beat the Williams sisters." In the early 1960s she also became the first Black player to compete on the Women's Professional Golf Tour.
At a time when racism and prejudice were widespread in sports and in society, Gibson was often compared to Jackie Robinson. "Her road to success was a challenging one," said Billie Jean King, "but I never saw her back down." "To anyone, she was an inspiration, because of what she was able to do at a time when it was enormously difficult to play tennis at all if you were Black," said former New York City Mayor David Dinkins. "I am honored to have followed in such great footsteps," wrote Venus Williams. "Her accomplishments set the stage for my success, and through players like myself and Serena and many others to come, her legacy will live on."
A decade after Gibson's last triumph at the US Nationals, Arthur Ashe became the first African-American man to win a Grand Slam singles title, at the 1968 US Open. Billie Jean King said, "If it hadn't been for [Althea], it wouldn't have been so easy for Arthur, or the ones who followed."
In 1980 Gibson became one of the first six inductees into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame, placing her on par with such pioneers as Amelia Earhart, Wilma Rudolph, ...
In 1991 Gibson became the first woman to receive the Theodore Roosevelt Award, the highest honor from the National Collegiate Athletic Association; she was cited for "symbolizing the best qualities of competitive excellence and good sportsmanship, and for her significant contributions to expanding opportunities for women and minorities through sports." Sports Illustrated for Women named her to its list of the "100 Greatest Female Athletes".
In a 1977 historical analysis of women in sports, The New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden wrote, "Althea Gibson and Wilma Rudolph are, without question, the most significant athletic forces among Black women in sports history. While Rudolph's accomplishments brought more visibility to women as athletes ... Althea's accomplishments were more revolutionary because of the psychosocial impact on Black America. Even to those Blacks who hadn't the slightest idea of where or what Wimbledon was, her victory, like Jackie Robinson's in baseball and Jack Johnson's in boxing, proved again that Blacks, when given an opportunity, could compete at any level in American society."
Gibson's five Wimbledon trophies are displayed at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.
In 2018, the USTA unanimously voted to erect a statue honoring Gibson at Flushing Meadows, site of the US Open.