written by Olivia Pennybaker

Althea Gibson was an inspiration for many in her sports career. She broke down barriers regarding gender and race, and even proved people could pick up golf later in life and find success in it. Gibson was born in Clarendon County in South Carolina on August 25, 1927. Her parents were sharecroppers on a cotton farm and the Great Depression hit her family hard. Her family soon moved to Harlem where Gibson learned how to play paddle tennis. She spent much of her teenage years living in a shelter for abused children, fearing her father’s violent behavior at her home. In 1940 she picked up tennis as her neighbors started a collection to finance junior memberships at the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club. In 1941 Gibson entered in her first tennis tournament and won. She began dedicating most of her time to her sport. In 1956 she won the French Open and went on to win 11 Grand Slam titles,  becoming the first African American to ever win a Grand Slam title. She retired from tennis in 1958 but that would not be the end of her athletic career. In the early 1950’s Gibson took a golf class and the sport grabbed her heart. She practiced tirelessly and at age 36 found herself making history once again as the first African American on the LPGA Tour. Many golf courses would not allow Gibson in the clubhouse, forcing her to make a locker room out of her car. Playing tennis, another sport predominantly for white and wealthy men, Gibson was used to this unfair treatment. She held her head high and did not let the prejudice stop her from playing the games she had natural talent for. Gibson illustrated determination and resilience as she became a household name in tennis and then picked up a brand new sport and reached the professional level with it. Gibson is an inspiration not only in tennis but in golf, illustrating how even though she did not play the sport until she was an adult, she was able to work hard enough to be one of the best in it. It does not matter if someone has played since they were 3 or 33, anyone of any age can enjoy and even dominate in golf tournaments. When the world pushed Gibson, she pushed back even harder. Being a black woman from poor sharecroppers made her stick out amongst the wealthy, white men but she ignored the hate and let her talent speak for itself. She never won any golf tournaments but was in the top 50 on the money list for five years. Gibson paved a path in the golf world, inspiring young black women to pick up a golf club. Someone had to be the first and Gibson was the one who showed the world that despite a person’s gender or race, they could play and be just as successful at it.