By Melissa Murphy, AP Sports Writer
Althea Gibson basked in a ticker-tape parade in New York a decade before Arthur Ashe won the 1968 U.S. Open.
Gibson won 11 majors in three years from 1956-58, including the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open singles titles. She integrated two sports — tennis and golf — during an era of racial segregation in the United States.
“She’s our Jackie Robinson of tennis,” said Billie Jean King, who at 13 watched Gibson play. “I saw what it meant to be the best.”
One Love Tennis is an athletic and educational program for youth in Wilmington, N.C. During a rainy day in 2017, the girls watched the documentary “Althea and Arthur.” They learned Ashe has a stadium named for him at the U.S. Open on the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York.
The mood in the room grew somber afterward, according to program director Lenny Simpson. The girls realized there wasn’t even a “dag-gone hot dog stand” named for Gibson.
Why wasn’t there a monument to the first African American to win a major title (1956 French Open) before winning both the U.S. Nationals (precursor to the U.S. Open) and Wimbledon in 1957-58?
Simpson suggested the girls be part of the solution by writing letters to his friend and then-U.S. Tennis Association President Katrina Adams. King and Adams had been working on the Gibson project for years. King’s advocacy before the USTA board resulted in a unanimous vote. Adams later read letters to the board from the girls, including Xerra Robinson, to reinforce the importance of a tribute.
“I know she would be proud to see the progress that’s been made with so many women of color leading the pack in professional tennis,” Adams said of Gibson, who died in 2003 at 76. “Her bravery, perseverance and determination paved the way.”
On Aug. 26, the USTA will unveil a statue in her honor at the U.S. Open. The girls and boys of One Love Tennis will attend the ceremony, along with Gibson’s 85-year-old doubles partner, Angela Buxton of Britain.
“It’s about bloody time,” said Buxton, who won the 1956 French and Wimbledon titles with her friend.
“If not for Althea Gibson, there would be no Arthur Ashe, no Serena and Venus, Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens and the list goes on,” Simpson said. “She opened it up for all of us.”