Florida A&M University (FAMU) President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., called the unveiling of the statue of tennis legend and FAMU alumna Althea Gibson in New York City “a special day” for all Rattlers.
“It’s a very inspirational moment for me to hear these tennis giants talk about the ultimate tennis giant being a FAMU graduate, talking about Althea Gibson, talking about how she inspired them, motivated them, trained them and played with them throughout her career and how that culminated in her being honored with a statue in front of Arthur Ashe Stadium, is amazing,” Robinson said after the unveiling ceremony Monday.
“For all the Rattlers out there, this is a special day for all of us. One of her dear colleagues put it this way: ‘She is looking over Arthur Ashe Stadium. She’s a pioneer. She’s the Jackie Robinson of tennis, and not just of women’s tennis,’” Robinson continued. “She opened the door for Arthur Ashe, Venus and Serena and other players who spoke today. It’s phenomenal to think about what this Rattler did for the history of tennis and for the present-day tennis in this nation and around the world.”
In August, the FAMU Board of Trustees approved the naming of the University’s tennis complex in Gibson’s honor. A memorial plaque already adorns the complex. Former FAMU All MEAC Tennis Player Zach Evenden, who now coaches on the pro tennis tour, said the ceremony had special meaning for him.
“It makes us feel great to see someone with her background and where she comes from and how she is being celebrated today with a statue. It’s great. It makes a big change,” said Evenden.
Evenden attended the ceremony, along with fellow pro-tour coach and former FAMU tennis player Kamau Murray and a sizable FAMU alumni contingent. Murray coaches 2017 U.S. Open Champion Sloane Stephens.
Gibson, who would have been 92 on Monday, entered FAMU on a full athletic scholarship in 1949. The following year, she became the first African American player to receive an invitation to the Nationals, where she made her Forest Hills debut on her 23rd birthday.
While still a student at FAMU, Gibson won her first international title in 1951, the Caribbean Championships in Jamaica, and later that year became the first African American competitor at Wimbledon. In the spring of 1953, she graduated from FAMU and began teaching physical education at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri.
In 1957, Gibson became the first African-American Wimbledon Champion in the tournament’s 80-year history. She won more than 50 singles and doubles titles, including 11 grand slam championships from 1956 to 1958, when she retired as the No.1 ranked player.
Tennis legend Billie Jean King called Gibson “an amazing athlete” who was the first African-American woman to play on the LPGA Tour.
“When people learn her story, it will inspire them to do great things with their lives,” King said.