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Middle States

Local Ties to Althea Gibson

Most tennis fans know the name Althea Gibson.

  • Broke the color barrier in tennis

  • Dominated tennis in the 1950s

  • First Black player to win the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open Singles Championships

  • Associated Press Athlete of the Year

 

After her eight-year tennis career — which featured 11 Grand Slam titles — she maintained a close relationship with the sport at a community level. Much of her community work, and her ties to the sport, were in the Middle States tennis community.

 

When Brendan Byrne was Governor of New Jersey in 1974, the Governor's Mansion was located at Morven in Princeton, N.J. Byrne was a tennis enthusiast, and during his tenure (1974-82), Gibson became the honorary resident tennis pro at the grounds. The Princeton mansion had a beautiful tennis court at the time. (The mansion was home to five governors and has since been converted into a museum.) 

 

Byrne and Gibson played many friendly games together over the years. He appointed Gibson to be State Commissioner of Athletics in 1975 — a role she held for 10 years and the first woman to hold the position. She was also on the State's Athletics Control Board and the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness. 

Gibson was a resident of East Orange, New Jersey for nearly 20 years and had paved the way for so many throughout her lifetime. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame and Black Athletes Hall of Fame. She was also honored with an induction into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2009.

 

Gibson’s run through the pro ranks in the 1950s was truly historic. She was the first Black player to win the French Open (1956), Wimbledon (1957-58) and U.S. Open (1957-58) Championships. Maybe most iconic is her 1950 debut at Forest Hills at age 23, where she was the first Black player (male or female) ever to compete at the event.


A detailed feature story about Gibson and her history in tennis can be found here.

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