#TBT: Althea Gibson Became the First Black Wimbledon Champion 60 Years Ago

By Sameer Rao Jul 06, 2017

Half a century before the Williams sisters forced the world to confront its assumptions about who can be a tennis great, Althea Gibson set the standard by being the first Black person to win a major international tennis competition. Today (July 6) marks the 60th anniversary of her 1957 women’s singles win at the United Kingdom’s Wimbledon—the first Black victor at the world’s oldest tennis tournament.

As The Undefeated‘s Rhiannon Walker tweeted with a clip of her victory above, Gibson won her Wimbledon title in two straight sets (or victories where the same person wins every set, or subdivision of a full match) against fellow American Darlene Hard. 

The Library of Congress (LOC) notes that Gibson bookended her Wimbledon win with two other singles victories—the French Open in 1956 and the U.S. Nationals (precursor to the U.S. Open) in 1958—making her the first Black athlete to earn those titles. She stacked those wins with doubles titles in all of those competitions and the Australian Open between 1956 and 1959, winning the 1957 Wimbledon women’s doubles with Hard. 

Gibson frequently encountered racist exclusion on her journey to the top, with the LOC noting that fellow tennis star Alice Marble had to petition the United States Lawn Tennis Association to let Gibson play in the 1950 U.S. Nationals. That association voted Gibson into its hall of fame in 1971, nine years before she became one of the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame’s inaugural inductees.