Althea Gibson becomes first African American to win U.S. Open tennis title

On September 8, 1957, 30-year-old Althea Gibson becomes the first African American to win the U.S. Open, beating Louise Brough, 6-3, 6-2. Afterward, vice president Richard Nixon presents her with the championship trophy. “Now I have been doubly honored,” Gibson says. “I won Wimbledon before Queen Elizabeth II and now I have won here before our vice president.”

On July 6, 1957, became the first Black woman to win Wimbledon, beating Darlene Hard. In 1956, she won her first Grand Slam singles championship, beating Angela Mortimer to become the first Black woman to win the French Open or any other Grand Slam tournament.

READ MORE: The life of Althea Gibson

An excellent all-around athlete, Gibson was New York’s women’s table tennis champion as a 12-year-old. In her late 20s, she developed into one of the world’s best female tennis players. 

Because there was no prize money in the U.S. Open (then called the “U.S. National Championships”) before 1968, Gibson was still an amateur. So, after her historic victory, she talked about turning pro in another profession.

“I’ve always wanted to sing,” Gibson told a wire service. “You’ve got to make a living somehow. I’ve had contract offers from several record companies but haven’t had time to follow them up.” Gibson eventually became a recording artist, releasing an album and performing on the The Ed Sullivan Show in 1959.

READ MORE: Trailblazing Black women in sports

Gibson retired from tennis in 1958, but she wasn’t done competing. She became a professional golfer, ranking as highly as 27th on the pro tour.

On September 28, 2003, Gibson died of complications from respiratory and bladder infections. In 2019, she was honored with a statue outside Arthur Ashe Stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open. 

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