After appeals from fans and tennis legend Billie Jean King, the USTA has voted to immortalize Althea Gibson, the first black winner of a Grand Slam title, with a statue at the site of the U.S. Open in Queens, New York. Speaking with Rhiannon Walker of The Undefeated, USTA President Katrina Adams, the organization’s first black president, said that a young tennis fan had written a letter asking that Gibson’s contributions to the game be recognized in some way. Even if they just named a hot dog stand after her, the fan wrote, it would serve as a testament and reminder to others of all Gibson achieved.
“I was like, it’ll definitely be something more substantial than a hot dog stand,” said Adams. “This is something that I have wanted for a while, something that I have floated within my office, as to getting something named after Althea. Recognizing for me as an African-American woman and recognizing what Althea stood for and understanding that she truly broke the color barrier for tennis — a lot of people think it’s Arthur [Ashe], but it was Althea 11 years before him.”
Angela Buxton, Gibson’s friend and double’s partner, told The Undefeated that it was “about time.”
“I think to more than 50 percent of the people it’ll be news, because certainly in my country [England] they don’t remember her at all,” said Buxton. “She did a great deal to improve the place of black people … Althea with her two ticker-tape parades still wasn’t allowed into a hotel where the whites sleep or a water fountain to drink where whites drink, but she helped to break that down.”
Billie Jean King spoke about Gibson’s pivotal significance in the sport. “I said, ‘She’s our Jackie Robinson of tennis and she needs to be appreciated for it, and she’s not,’ ” King said. “I wanted something there that was permanent. I didn’t want just a one-day highlight.” And King wrote on Twitter to commemorate the honor for Gibson and noted the “tremendous influence on my life” the tennis legend had.
Althea Gibson is finally getting her statue. The 1st African-American to win a Grand Slam & a two-time U.S. National Champion, Althea was a tremendous influence on my life & all those who followed in her trailblazing footsteps. #champion #BlackHistoryMonth https://t.co/eW6LTCf9gZ
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) February 27, 2018
Read the full story at The Undefeated.