Were Althea Gibson (1927-2003) still alive, today would be her 87th birthday. Google honors the day with this animated Doodle of Gibson playing tennis (click on screenshot to go to Doodle):
I’m old enough to have seen her play. She was not only the first black woman to hit the big time in tennis, but this didn’t represent some kind of affirmative action in sports: like another pioneer, Jackie Robinson, she was simply fantastic regardless of her ethnicity:
Wikipedia sums up her achievements:
In 1956 she became the first person of color to win a Grand Slam title (the French Open). The following year she won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals (precursor of the U.S. Open), then won both again in 1958, and was voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in both years. In all she won 11 Grand Slam tournaments, including six doubles titles, and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame. “She is one of the greatest players who ever lived,” said Robert Ryland, a tennis contemporary and former coach of Venus and Serena Williams. “Martina couldn’t touch her. I think she’d beat the Williams sisters.” In the early 1960s she also became the first black player to compete on the women’s professional golf tour.
Here’s a good six-minute video biography of Gibson: