Pioneer Gibson dies at 76

Monday, September 29, 2003

Althea Gibson, a sports pioneer who broke the color barrier in tennis in the 1950s as the first black woman to win Wimbledon and U.S. national titles, died Sunday. She was 76.

Gibson had been seriously ill for years and died at East Orange General Hospital in New Jersey, where she had spent the last week, according to Darryl Jeffries, a spokes man for the city of East Orange.

Gibson was the first black to compete in the U.S. championships, in 1950, and at Wimbledon, in 1951. However, it wasn't until several years later that she began to win major tournaments, including the Wimbledon and U.S. championships in 1957 and 1958, the French Open, and three doubles titles at Wimbledon (1956-58).

"Who could have imagined? Who could have thought?" Gibson said in 1988 as she presented her Wimbledon trophies to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

"Here stands before you a Negro woman, raised in Harlem, who went on to become a tennis player ... and finally wind up being a world champion, in fact, the first black woman champion of this world," she said. "And believe it or not, I still am."

Gibson broke racial barriers not only in tennis but in the Ladies Professional Golf Association. She even toured with the Harlem Globetrotters after retiring from tennis in the late 1950s.

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