Commentary: Let’s Memorialize Althea Gibson

Althea Gibson after winning the U.S. Championships in 1957.

By Will Goodin/Clarion News

LINCOLN UNIVERSITY- With tennis rising in popularity and more people using the university courts, it’s a good time to remember one of the greatest female African-American athletes you have likely never heard of. For two years, she taught and coached at LU, and soon after rose to the pinnacle of her sport by winning Grand Slam events.

For whatever reason, Althea Gibson isn’t a household name. However, she warrants serious attention from not only tennis fans, but all sports fans. Gibson was not only an amazing athlete with a plethora of impressive accolades, but before that she was an instructor at Lincoln University.

Gibson was born in South Carolina in 1927, raised in Harlem, and went on to attend Florida A&M, where she graduated in 1953. Her next stop was Lincoln University of Missouri, where she taught physical education and coached men’s tennis from 1953 to 1955. Following her second year at LU, she was recruited by the U.S. State Department to play tennis for a goodwill tour across Asia, where she won 16 of 18 matches against the world’s best players.

Shortly after the tour ended in 1956, Gibson won the French Open, becoming the first African-American to win a Grand Slam event. In 1957 Gibson won singles and doubles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, earning her the ranking of number one in the world. In 1958 Gibson won both singles and doubles again at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

A gifted athlete with many talents, Gibson also became the first Black golfer admitted to the LPGA. She often voiced her strong opinions about low pay for women golfers and tennis players. However, she continued to play at venues where she wasn’t allowed to stay or dine – she knew her fight on the field of play would lead to greater things for all Blacks. She was right. Arthur Ashe and Venus and Serena Williams credit Gibson for paving the way for Blacks in sports and society.

A partial list of Althea Gibson’s accomplishments:

1956-French Open singles and doubles champion and Wimbledon doubles champion. Gibson becomes the first African-American to win a Grand Slam title.
-1957-U.S. Clay Court singles and doubles champion, Australian Open doubles champion, Wimbledon singles and doubles champion, and U.S. Open singles and doubles champion.
-1958- Wimbledon singles and doubles champion and U.S. Open singles champion.
-1959-Pan American Games singles gold medalist.
(source: U.S. Tennis Association)

“Lincoln is very fortunate to have had her on our faculty to instill her work ethic and dedication to our students,” said Mark Schleer, Lincoln University historian and archivist.

Although recognized as one of the greatest tennis players in the history of the sport, there is nothing to commemorate her accomplishments on Lincoln’s campus – no plaque, no bust, no name on the tennis courts. We should remember that she carved the path for many Black athletes. Later in life she fought for greater educational opportunities for minorities and the disadvantaged.

Maybe it’s time we memorialize the fact that at one time, she too was a part of Lincoln University.

Althea Gibson in the 1954 Lincoln University yearbook. (LU Page Library archives)
Althea Gibson enjoys a ticker-tape parade in New York City after winning the Wimbledon singles championship in 1957. (photo courtesy U.S. Archives)
Althea Gibson winning Wimbledon in 1956. (U.S. Archives)

About The Clarion News

Campus and community news produced by journalism students at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo.
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