In honor of Black History Month, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University celebrates the life and legacy of FAMU alumna Althea Gibson. Throughout the month of February, the University will pay tribute to FAMUans, like Gibson, who have made a historic impact in our culture and society.
Althea Gibson was born into humble beginnings on August 25, 1927 as the daughter of cotton farm sharecroppers in Silver, South Carolina. The Great Depression hit the south, and the family moved to Harlem, N.Y., where Gibson participated in the neighborhood organized sports and quickly became adept in paddle tennis.
By age 12, she was the New York City women’s paddle tennis champion. In 1940, a group of Gibson’s neighbors took up a collection to fund her membership into a local tennis club.
One year later, she entered and won the American Tennis Association’s New York State Championship. Dr. Walter Johnson (who later mentored Arthur Ashe) took interest in her tennis abilities.
He helped fund advanced tennis instructions and connected her to the United States Tennis Association. Gibson caught the attention of coaches at FAMU and she was offered a full athletic scholarship in 1950.
In the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, Gibson helped integrate the world of tennis and became the first African American to win Wimbledon.
She twice won Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships (now known as the U.S. Open) and became the top-ranked player in the world.
The tall, lean Gibson was fast and had a long reach, and relied on a booming serve and precise volleys.
In 1957, she was the first African American selected as the Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press, a distinction she repeated in 1958.
She later became the first African-American woman featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Time magazines.
Image courtesy: FAMU Athletics