The 1950’s was a period of development culturally and economically for the United States. The decade subsequent to World War II saw improvements to the automobile, growth in the housing market, and a large number of post-war babies born.

What it didn’t see much of, in the beginning, was racial diversity. This country was still learning to treat everyone as equals, but it was making progress.

Today, August 22nd marks a leap in the world of sports when Althea Gibson became the first African-American to compete in a U.S. national tennis competition in the year 1950.

The star to be was born in a small town called Silver, South Carolina, but she didn’t live there long. Her family moved to Harlem, New York when she was quite young.She never did particularly well in school, often skipping class due to a lack of interest.

She never did particularly well in school, often skipping class due to a lack of interest.

When she was able to get away from school, she shined brightly in another area, sports. Her crème de la crème quickly became table tennis (ping-pong) as she dominated the local scene becoming a known champion in the area.

Her success eventually caught the eye of musician Buddy Walker, who thought she should give tennis a try and invited her to play on local courts. This became the start of her legend.

She often had to practice at night after the courts closed, but she credited her skills to this because she had to subconsciously know where the boundaries were without physically seeing them.

She went on to win several tournaments hosted by the local recreation department which led her to be introduced to the Harlem River Tennis Courts. It was less than a year that she held a tennis racket when she won her first ATA tournament in 1941.

She went on to win another in 1944 and 1945. This win streak was short-lived when she lost a tournament in 1946, but she started a new 10 championship streak that lasted from 1947 to 1956.

During this period, Althea’s success in ATA tournaments afforded her the opportunity to go to college. She attended Florida A&M University, paid for by a sports scholarship. After she graduated in 1953 she ran into a huge problem: she couldn’t make enough money to get by.

At one point, she even considered leaving sports altogether to join the Army. Many events in the tennis world were so segregated that Althea couldn’t compete in them. This left her very little opportunity to make any money doing what she was best at doing.

Everything changed for her when pro tennis player Alice Marble wrote an article to  American Lawn Tennis magazine criticizing the heads in her sport for denying Althea the opportunity to play in many competitions because of her color. She had much more skill than many of the players of her time and deserved the opportunity to compete as much as anyone.

Marble’s letter gained attention and began to open doors for Althea allowing her to become the first black player to compete at Wimbledon. She climbed the ranks, eventually becoming the tenth and then the seventh best player in the United States.

She played in several countries including Pakistan, Burma, and India.

If tennis wasn’t enough, Althea also became the first black woman to compete on the pro golf tour. She only played golf for a short time, later returning to tennis when the wins on the course weren’t adding up.

She sadly couldn’t relive her former glory with the changes that tennis had been going through. The game had gotten faster than she was now, being played by younger, fresher competitors.

She retired in 1971 but was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame soon after.

Althea was a pioneer that shaped the game of tennis into what it is today. She was an inspiration to the Williams sisters. Even though they never actually met, Venus, got the chance to talk to her on the phone, the entire time she was completely star-struck.

Our heroes are the ones changing history and setting examples for any generation! Thanks to them, we can grow together and have a chance to excel.

Article via: HISTORY.COM & BIOGRAPHY.COM