Althea Gibson, a tennis champion and golfer who broke the color barrier in both sports, died on Sept. 29 from respiratory failure. She was 76.
A born athlete, Gibson began playing tennis as a child by hitting rubber balls off a brick wall and taking lessons at the Harlem Cosmopolitan Club. She attended Florida A&M University on a tennis and basketball scholarship, then transferred to the pro league.
In 1950, Gibson was the first black player to compete at the national tennis championship. She became the first black entrant at Wimbledon in 1951 and won the tournament six years later. That triumph earned her the title of Female Athlete of the Year by The Associated Press and a parade in New York City. She continued to dominate women’s tennis in the 1950s, winning 11 Grand Slam titles.
Gibson next integrated women’s golf as the first black player on the LPGA tour. After 171 tournaments, she was hired to be the commissioner of athletics in New Jersey, and serve on the governor’s council on physical fitness.
With the aid of her longtime friend, Frances Clayton-Gray, Gibson co-founded the Althea Gibson Foundation, an organization that helps inner city kids learn to play tennis and golf. They also wrote her memoirs, ”Born to Win: The Althea Gibson Story,” which will be published next year.
Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame and the International Sports Hall of Fame. An elementary school in East Orange, N.J., bears her name.