Google Doodle honors Althea Gibson

August 25, 2014 • 8:26 am

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):

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 7.35.21 AMI’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:

 

7 thoughts on “Google Doodle honors Althea Gibson

  1. 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

    Are there some black athletes who did hit the big time due to affirmative action?

    Perhaps there are some black academics at UC who hit the big time due to affirmative action?

    1. I read that as saying that it’s obvious she rose to the top due to skill and talent only, and that back in the day it was harder for blacks to achieve success and recognition than it has been since there were pioneers like Gibson.

      FWIW, while not, perhaps, strictly affirmative action, there now are outreach programs to underprivileged sectors of society to help them have opportunities to practice and achieve in sports, opportunities that the middle class takes for granted. Traditionally “rich” sports like golf & tennis have been trying to lose their Country Club aura. Baseball is trying to attract more black youth to the game.

      Also back in the day, there may have been WASP academics at some of our most esteemed universities who “hit the big time” due to quota caps on Jews.

      1. My immediate response to the sentence was — and not to be a ding on Professor Coyne — that it was an example of the racism that permeates American society.

        Racism is a political phenomenon, and politics is about who gets what. In America, black citizens don’t even get the presumption that athletic achievements are based on personal achievement. That “markedness” allows tropes like “and not even an affirmative action hire” to be used in casual conversation without anyone batting an eye.

        The point is, if there is one, that racism doesn’t always come wearing a pointed white hat. It’s something we as Americans carry inside us, permeating our language and customs, even when we think otherwise.

        1. No, I meant that she was given no special advantages, but had to make it on talent alone, and, to overcome racial, only those black athletes that were super talented could succed.

          But thanks for the accusation of racism, phein39. You can go away now.

        2. “In America, black citizens don’t even get the presumption that athletic achievements are based on personal achievement.”

          Citation? Given our sports-madness, I’d have said that sports are one area of American culture where personal achievement supersedes bigotry.

          (In Gibson’s day it was as difficult, if not more, to be a woman in many sports…)

          IMO you should read Jerry’s remark as anticipating the sort of reaction you describe and cutting it off at the pass.

  2. I remember being very impressed with her autobiography, “I Always Wanted to Be Somebody”. It was published in 1958 or -59. She was taken up by coaches who helped her along, but she had terrific ability and didn’t need any special breaks–except just to be on an even footing with white players.

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