Segments in this Video

Althea: Introduction (03:40)


Althea Gibson played Louise Brough at the U.S. National Championship in 1957, crossing the racial barriers. Gibson ignored the racial slurs from hecklers. As she was about to complete the match, an eagle fell from the top of the stadium. (Credits)

Early Life (04:45)

Gibson was born in 1927 in Silver, South Carolina. In 1930, the family moved into an apartment in Harlem, New York. Her father would fight Gibson to ensure she was tough enough to survive.

Beginning Tennis (03:22)

The family's apartment was located at 143rd street between Lenox and Seventh Avenue. Gibson recalls playing paddle tennis with a friend and challenging anyone who wanted to play. Buddy Walker introduced her to the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club, which had five clay courts.

Gibson's Personality (02:21)

Gibson lacked some of the social graces tennis players exhibited and was extremely aggressive. Hilton Davis recalls Gibson attempting to beat a man in the stands who laughed at her. Sugar Ray Robinson attempted to teach her how to act gracious in defeat.

Gifted Athlete (03:10)

Fred Johnson taught Bob Davis and Gibson how to play tennis. Gibson won the ATA Girls' singles championship against Roumania Peters; she dropped out of school and became known for her poor attitude among the black middle class. The American Tennis Association was the first African American sports organization in 1917.

Eaton and Johnson's Influence (08:35)

In 1946, Hubert Eaton and Robert Johnson approached Gibson about playing at the U.S. National Championships. The two doctors convinced her to go back to school and divide her time between North Carolina and Virginia. Johnson ran an all-expenses paid program mentoring black tennis players whom included John Lucas and Arthur Ashe; former participants recall Johnson's mentoring style.

Controversial Participation (05:26)

Gibson became the top African-American tennis player in the country. Coaches and friends discuss what made her an elite player. The USTA (United States Tennis Association) would not allow Gibson to participate in competition; an official explains she would be banned because of her attitude and not her race.

Gibson Attends the U.S. Nationals (04:47)

Coaches and former players describe the West Side Tennis Club. In September 1950, Gibson lost to Brough in the smaller Grandstand Court after the matched was postponed overnight.

Gibson Attends Florida A & M (03:16)

In 1955, Gibson earned a Bachelor's degree;her tennis progress stagnated during this time. Former players recall receiving little to no money for playing matches and lived off the rich members of the tennis clubs.

Asian Tour (04:06)

As the Civil Rights Movement began, Gibson, Karol Fageros, and Angela Buxton agreed to participate in a tour to promote tennis. Upon completion, Gibson decided to remain in Europe and play Wimbledon. Buxton recalls playing doubles and winning the Paris Indoor Championship.

International Tournament (02:27)

The ATA included players from the Caribbean Islands. Sydney Llewellyn came to America to become a professional dancer and helped Gibson develop self-confidence.

Gibson's Career Flourishes (07:10)

In 1956, Gibson won singles and doubles at the French Open and doubles at Wimbledon. She beat Darlene Hard at Wimbledon in 1957 and defeated Brough at the U.S. National Championship. See news feeds from the events and Gibson's guest appearance on "What's My Line?"

Winning Wimbledon Again (03:04)

Llewellyn told Gibson to win again to prove her victory was not a fluke; she won in 1958. Angela Buxton convinced the band at the Wimbledon Ball to allow Gibson to sing. Gibson appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Fighting for Social Justice? (02:23)

Gibson never engaged in a specific cause and preferred to prove what an individual from the ghetto could achieve. Friends and critics discuss her lack of activism during the Civil Rights Movement.

South Africa, 1943 (03:15)

When Buxton lived in Capetown, neighbors pressured her mother to stop allowing Buxton to play with an African girl. Buxton found a kindred spirit in Gibson.

Gibson Marries (04:53)

Gibson married William Darben; Buxton recalls their relationship. Gibson retired from tennis and began to record albums and act in movies. Women did not have the same resources as men and tennis did not have large monetary prizes during the 1950s.

Harlem Globetrotters (04:57)

Gibson appeared at paid appearances with Fageros. In 1960, Gibson started playing on the golf circuit and became the first African-American member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. Friends and colleagues discuss the rumors about Gibson's sexuality.

Gibson's Mental Health (04:49)

In 1996, Gibson called Buxton to tell her that she was going to commit suicide. Darben and Gibson divorce. Art Carrington explains how Gibson married Llewellyn so he could travel as her spouse to Wimbledon.

Financial Destitution (05:17)

Buxton sent Gibson $1,500 dollars and Paul Fine wrote a letter in "Tennis Week" about Gibson's financial predicament. Gibson entitled her autobiography, "I Always Wanted to Be Somebody." Tennis players and fans sent her over $1 million; she lived out her days in Newark, NJ.

Credits: Althea (02:20)

Credits: Althea

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Althea Gibson emerged as a most unlikely queen of the highly segregated tennis world of the 1950s. Her roots as a sharecropper's daughter, her family's migration to Harlem, her mentoring from Sugar Ray Robinson, David Dinkins and others, her fame that thrust her unwillingly into the glare of the early Civil Rights movement, all bring the story into a much broader realm of African American history, transcending sports.

Length: 85 minutes

Item#: BVL129895

Copyright date: ©2015

Closed Captioned

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