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International Tennis Hall of Fame celebrates 2021 Black History Month

February 04, 2021

Having recently unveiled a comprehensive virtual exhibit to celebrate Black influence in tennis, the International Tennis Hall of Fame is emphasizing education during this year's Black History Month with a pair of free-to-attend webinars: The History of Black Tennis in Rhode Island and Althea Gibson and the History of Tennis at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, on Feb. 17 and Feb. 24, respectively.


The history of the sport in Newport, R.I. dates back to 1880, with the Hall of Fame and museum having been a cornerstone of the community for more than 60 years. 

This webinar will highlight the important social and cultural role that tennis played in building African-American communities in Newport and Providence in the early 1900s.


"Black tennis clubs, along with fraternal and civic organizations, encouraged participation and arranged tournaments that reflected the politics of respectability," the Hall's introduction explains," but also strengthened racial identity, fortified community, and showcased an innovative form of cultural and artistic expression."


Hosted by Robert Cvornyek, former chair of the History Department at Rhode Island College, and Keith Stokes, vice president of the 1696 Heritage Group, this webinar will focus on the Old Hometown Tennis and Athletic Club. This historically Black tennis club was established in Newport in 1927 by leaders associated with all four African heritage churches, the Newport NAACP and other civic associations.


Moderated by former USTA president Katrina Adams, gender and racial dynamics will be examined through the lens of Gibson's legendary life and career in the second webinar, which will also feature Damion Thomas, Museum Curator of Sports at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The discussion will highlight the cultural significance of Gibson's breaking of tennis' color barrier and of integration in the sport.


This presentation is made possible through the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s designation as a Smithsonian Affiliate. The Hall of Fame earned this prestigious distinction in 2017.


While the webinars are free to attend, advance registration is required. A suggested donation of $10 can be made to support the International Tennis Hall of Fame. To learn more about the programs and to register, click here.


In December, the Hall also unveiled Breaking The Barriers: The ATA and Black Tennis Pioneers, a virtual exhibit which offers a chronicled look at Black tennis history from the late 19th century to the present day. Through a collection of interactive imagery and videos, the exhibit explores five distinct time periods of Black history in the sport, paired with a concurrent timeline of African-American history overall.


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