Breaking into elite sports
Born into a sharecropping family in South Carolina, Althea Gibson (1927–2003) spent most of her formative years in Harlem, New York, where she was first introduced to the game of tennis as a teenager. At age 20, Gibson won the first of 10 straight titles at the national tournament of the American Tennis Association, the first African American sports association founded under segregation. Defying racist stereotypes, she proved that African Americans could comport themselves—and excel—in the most exclusive, elite spaces in society. Despite success in the early 1950s, Gibson wasn’t selected to represent the United States in the Wightman Cup tournament until 1957, by which time she had already won two of her five grand slam titles: the 1956 French Nationals championship and the 1957 Wimbledon title. More than a decade later, she was named New Jersey’s commissioner of athletics, becoming the first woman to head a state’s athletic commission.