USTA to Celebrate on Opening Night of US Open 50th Anniversary of Althea Gibson's Historic Victory

August 15, 2007 01:56 PM
The USTA announced that the 2007 US Open will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Althea Gibson’s historic title victory at the U.S. National Championships with an Opening Night celebration themed, “Breaking Barriers.” As part of the ceremony, Gibson will be inducted in the US Open Court of Champions, based on the result of an international media vote. The Opening Night tribute on August 27 will include a celebration of African American females who also broke barriers in the world of sports, entertainment, politics and the arts. Aretha Franklin, the first African American woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, will perform a special tribute during the ceremony.

Gibson became the first African American tennis player, male or female, to win the title at the U.S. National Championships (now the US Open) in 1957. She was a trailblazer of great talent and greater courage, who overcame many obstacles while compiling a career filled with firsts. In addition to breaking the color barrier in tennis (1950), she was the first African American to win singles titles at the French Championships (1956), Wimbledon (1957) and the U.S. Nationals (1957). With her success, she became the first African American to be named Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year (1957 and 1958). Gibson won eleven Grand Slam titles in all, adding six doubles crowns to her singles success.

“Althea Gibson’s talent, dignity and unrelenting desire to achieve made her a great champion,” said Jane Brown Grimes, President and Chairman of the Board, USTA. “She made tennis a better place, by opening doors and opening minds. She is finally receiving the recognition she so richly deserves.”

“Opening Night will be an important and historic evening at the US Open with the celebration of Althea Gibson -- the ‘Jackie Robinson of tennis’,” said Arlen Kantarian, Chief Executive, Pro Tennis, USTA. “We look forward to celebrating her remarkable achievements knowing her legacy will now live on among the greatest champions ever to compete at the US Open and U.S. Championships.”

“Althea Gibson is a true pioneer and trailblazer. She broke through racial barriers in tennis in pre-civil rights times and I will always be grateful to her for having the strength and the courage to triumph in extreme adversity,” said Venus Williams. “Her accomplishments set the stage for my success, and through players like me, Serena, and many others to come, her legacy will live on.”

US Open Court of Champions Induction

As part of the on-court ceremonies on Opening Night, Gibson will be inducted into the US Open Court of Champions, which salutes the greatest singles champions in the history of the U.S. Championships/US Open. An individual, permanent monument will serve as a lasting tribute on-site at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, US Open Court of Champions.

Gibson was the leader in voting conducted by a panel of international print and broadcast journalists. She will join prior inductees Don Budge, Maureen Connolly, Jimmy Connors, Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, Billie Jean King, Jack Kramer, Rod Laver, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Bill Tilden and Helen Wills.

USTA Salutes African American Female Firsts

In recognition of Gibson’s accomplishments, the USTA has invited African American women who achieved a “first” in their respective disciplines to participate in an on-court ceremony on Opening Night. The world of sports, entertainment, politics and the arts will all be represented on-court. Gibson possessed remarkable courage and her story is as inspiring as the stories of these African American women, who also paved their own way to reach their goals.

The following African American female firsts are confirmed to participate in the Althea Gibson tribute, “Breaking Barriers”:


African American Female “Firsts”

Yolanda Adams

First to receive the Contemporary/Inspirational Artist Award, the American Music Awards

Ella Bully-Cummings

First to be appointed Chief of Police, Detroit Police Department

Cynthia Cooper

First to score 2500 career points in WNBA history

Sheila Crump Johnson

First to achieve billionaire status and to own, or be partner in 3 WNBA franchises

Roberta Flack

First to student teach in a predominately all-white school in the 1950’s

Vonetta Flowers

First to win a gold medal, Winter Olympics

Zina Garrison

First to win an Olympic tennis medal

Nikki Giovanni

First to receive the Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award

Traci Green

First head coach at Harvard University

Dr. Mae Jemison

First to become an astronaut, Space Shuttle Endeavour

Jackie Joyner-Kersee

First to win back-to-back gold medals in the heptathlon event

Carol Moseley Braun

First to be elected to U.S. Senate (Democrat, Illinois)

Hazel O’Leary

First to be appointed Secretary of Energy

Sharon Pratt Kelly

First to be elected Mayor of large U.S. city (Washington D.C.)

Phylicia Rashad

First to win a Tony, Best Performance Leading Actress, Play

Susan L. Taylor

First to receive the Henry Johnson Fisher Award

Dr. Debi Thomas

First to win a Winter Olympic medal, Figure Skating

Lynette Woodard

First to join the Harlem Globetrotters

International Hall of Fame Exhibit at the US Open

Gibson’s achievements will also be included in a special exhibit at the US Open Gallery located in Louis Armstrong Stadium. During the US Open, the International Tennis Hall of Fame will showcase “Breaking the Barriers…the ATA and Black Tennis Pioneers,” a special exhibit featuring the unheralded champions of early black tennis. The exhibit tells the story of the American Tennis Association (ATA), which organized competitive tennis opportunities for the black community, encouraged player development and fought discrimination in the sport. The ATA, the oldest African American sports association in the U.S., celebrates its 90th anniversary this year. Many of the most well-known black tennis stars emerged from the ATA including Gibson, Arthur Ashe, Zina Garrison, Katrina Adams and MaliVai Washington.