New Statue Honors African American Tennis Pioneer Althea Gibson

A sculpture of tennis icon Althea Gibson was unveiled just before the start of the US Open tournament.

The statue, dedicated to Gibson, is located outside of Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, New York and was created by sculptor Eric Goulder. The US Open tweeted photos of the statue and its unveiling with the caption, “Forever enshrined and remembered, Althea Gibson.”

One Love Tennis, a non-profit organization for children based in Wilmington, North Carolina wrote letters to the United States Tennis Association (USTA) highlighting Gibson’s legacy and encouraging a memorial in her honor. The organization wrote on its Facebook page that it sent out the letters two and a half years ago to make the Queens statue happen.

“One Love and Katrina Adams reunite at the statue of Althea Gibson 2 1/2 years since One Love kids composed letters urging the USTA to honor the barrier-breaking world champion,” the organization wrote.

On August 26, Billie Jean King participated in the memorial’s unveiling ceremony, calling Gibson the Jackie Robinson of tennis.

"Althea is a very strong reminder that it's important to the living people right now that we carry on her legacy and the legacy of equality," King said, according to CBS Sports. "I knew if Althea had gone through what she had gone through and changed the world, that I had a chance to follow in her footsteps and help change the next generations."

Gibson was born on August 25, 1927, in Silver, South Carolina. She was extremely athletic when she was young and played basketball and paddle tennis, winning a women’s paddle championship when she was only 12-years-old, the International Tennis Hall of Fame website stated. She played for the American Tennis Association (ATA), which, established in 1916, is the oldest African American sports organization in the US.

In 1947, Gibson won her first ATA national women’s title; she would go on to win ten consecutive titles. When she was 23-years-old, she became the first African American player to compete in the US Nationals. In 1950, Gibson broke down color lines and paved the way for other Black tennis players by becoming the first African American to play tennis at the US National Championships, according to the International Tennis Hall of Fame website.

Throughout her career, Gibson won 11 championship titles and appeared in 19 major finals. She was also the first Black player to win the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Nationals, according to NPR. Gibson retired in 1958 and turned to playing professional golf, according to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. When she was 37 years old, she became the first African American player in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.

Gibson is famously quoted as saying: “I always wanted to be somebody. If I made it, it’s half because I was game enough to take a lot of punishment along the way and half because there were a lot of people who cared enough to help me.”

The famous athlete died in September 2003 when she was 76 years old. Katrina Adams, the immediate past president of the USTA, said in a statement to The Undefeated that it was important to her to honor Gibson.

"Recognizing for me as an African American woman and recognizing what Althea stood for and understanding that she truly broke the color barrier for tennis — a lot of people think it's Arthur [Ashe], but it was Althea 11 years before him," Adams said.

In a statement to CBS Sports, Serena Williams expressed her admiration for Gibson and the importance of having the statue at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"It's really important to be thankful and to know what she went through, to understand that's why that statue is so important to others," Williams said. "No matter what color you are, you can definitely learn a lot about her story, the opportunities that she helped bring to tennis."

Williams also made history this year by becoming the first athlete to make Forbes’ list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women. The magazine made the announcement on June 3 that Williams, whose estimated worth is $225 million, would grace the magazine’s cover on June 30.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.