Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

March 2, 1956

On March 2, 1956, the Atlanta Daily World noted that tennis champion Althea Gibson would stay overseas to train for and compete in the Wimbledon tournament in London in June-July 1956. Gibson’s pre-Wimbledon itinerary included tournaments in Egypt, France, and Italy. The fact that Gibson’s travel itinerary was newsworthy is a good indication of her standing as an athlete and celebrity. Gibson’s stature grew over the next eighteen months as she racked up a series of impressive victories. In May 1956, she won the French Open (her seventieth straight championship), becoming the first person of color to win a grand slam title in tennis. The Daily World carried an international news service story noting, “The 28-year-old Negro star...has been competing as a special emissary of the State Department in its program for sending representative American athletes abroad.”  

When Gibson won Wimbledon in July 1957, the Chicago Defender stressed that her victory was bigger than sports: “Althea Gibson, the newly crowned Queen of tennisdom, achieved more than a personal triumph in winning the Wimbledon tennis singles title. Her victory is a victory for Uncle Sam, for democracy and is a moral justification of the broad policy of the British tennis association. Miss Gibsons sensational triumph at the historic Wimbledon, will do much to enhance the cause of the free world in areas where Americas racial bias formed the basis of hostility toward Uncle Sam. With a mighty stroke of her tennis racket, Miss Gibson dealt a staggering blow to Communism propaganda which has been fed the meat of racial segregation. This is counter-propaganda of a sort that is far more effective than any argument contrived to disprove the Communist allegations about Americas anti-Negro attitude.”

After her Wimbledon victory, Gibson returned home to New York City and was honored with a ticker tape parade (the first black person so honored since Jesse Owens). In a front-page story, the New York Amsterdam News reported that a block party was also planned for Gibson in front of her Harlem apartment on 143rd St, between Lenox and 7th Avenues. “I was as honored and elated to meet those kids out there on my stoop as I was to meet the Queen,” Gibson said.

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