Tue, Oct 15, 2019

Just before the start of the US Open tennis tournament, a sculpture honoring Althea Gibson was unveiled outside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Gibson, who died in 2003 at the age of 76, broke the sport’s color barrier.

The granite statue dedicated to Gibson, created by sculptor Eric Goulder, sits outside of Arthur Ashe Stadium, which is named after the only African-American male tennis player to win the US Open and Wimbledon. 

A group of girls from the One Love Tennis group in Wilmington, N.C., the city that Gibson called home during her high school years, helped lead the campaign to build a memorial for Gibson in Queens. The youngsters wrote letters, in which they highlighted Gibson’s legacy and contributions to the sport of tennis and urged the USTA board to honor Gibson with a memorial. In February, the One Love Tennis group was highlighted in CBS Sports’ Althea & Arthur” documentary special.

Gibson became the first African-American tennis player, male or female, to complete in the US National Championships (the precursor to the US Open) in 1950 at just 23-years-old. That was only three years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. A year later, Gibson became the first black tennis player at Wimbledon. In 1956, she won her first Grade Slam title at the French Open. It would be the first of eleven career Grand Slam titles for Gibson. When she retired in 1958, Gibson was the top-ranked woman in tennis.

Billie Jean King, who helped unveil the sculpture, called Gibson the Jackie Robinson of tennis.

“Althea is a very strong reminder that it’s important to the living people right now that we carry on her legacy and the legacy of equality,” King said. “I knew if Althea had gone through what she had gone through and changed the world, that I had a chance to follow in her footsteps and help change the next generations.”

Serena and Venus Williams, who have followed in Gibson’s footsteps, expressed their admiration for her as well.

“It wasn’t easy to be African American in the ’50s,” Venus said. “And she did it and was a champion. I can’t even imagine what she went through. This is a country where we came here for freedom and it was unfortunate that many people were not given that. And because of Althea, people fighting for it, we have gotten a lot closer to it.”

“It’s really important to be thankful and to know what she went through, to understand that’s why that statue is so important to others,” Serena said. “No matter what color you are, you can definitely learn a lot about her story, the opportunities that she helped bring to tennis.”

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