Breaking into elite sports
Born into a sharecropping family in South Carolina, Althea Gibson (1927–2003) spent most of her formative years in Harlem, where she was first introduced to the game of tennis as a teenager. Defying racist stereotypes, she proved that African Americans could comport themselves—and excel—in the most exclusive, elite spaces in society. Despite her success in the early 1950s, Gibson wasn’t selected to represent the United States in the Wightman Cup tournament until 1957, by which time she had already won two of her five grand slam titles: the 1956 French Nationals championship and the 1957 Wimbledon title. More than a decade later, she was named New Jersey’s commissioner of athletics, becoming the first woman to head a state’s athletic commission.