Sunday, February 04, 2007

Black History Month: African Americans in Tennis

IN OBSERVANCE of Black History Month, I'll be posting tributes throughout February of Black players who have made their mark in tennis history. Since Black History Month is an American invention (well, there is a Black History Month in October in Britain as well, and who knows how many more in predominantly non-Black nations), my focus will be on Black players from the United States. However, whenever my research warrants it, I'll also pay tribute to Black players from other parts of the world.

This first entry focuses on American players through Arther Ashe. Many are missing, but I hope to fill in the gaps throughout the month.

Ora Mae Washington

American Tennis Association and Women's Basketball., January 23, 1898
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Ora Washington, who won eight ATA women's titles (1929-1937), was undefeated from 1924-1936. Washington was also a top-scoring center and coach for the African-American women's basketball team, the Philadelphia Tribunes.

American Tennis Association

Tennis Association, November 30, 1916
Washington, District of Columbia

The American Tennis Association is one of the oldest African-American sports organizations in the United States. Organized at a meeting held in the Washington, D.C., YMCA, it showcased talented African-American tennis players in the era of segregated tennis and is still an active organization. At its first championship in Baltimore in 1917, Tally Homes won the Men's Singles event and Lucy Slowe the Women's singles.

Oscar Johnson

United States Lawn Tennis Association, 1948
Los Angeles, California

In August 1948, African-American tennis junior, Oscar Johnson, played in the National Junior Public Parks championships in Griffith Park, Los Angeles; in December of the same year he competed in the National Junior Indoor championships in St. Louis.

Dr. Reginald Weir
U.S. Lawn Tennis Association, March 11, 1948
New York City, New York

Reginald Weir was the first African-American man to compete in the U.S. Indoor Lawn Tennis Championship.

Althea Gibson

U.S. Open, United States Lawn Tennis Association, August 28, 1950
Forest Hills, New York

Althea Gibson was the first African American ever to play in the U.S. Open. In 1956, she became the first African American to win a Grand Slam event, the clay surface French Open. She became the first African American to win a women's title at the U.S. Open in 1957 and repeated her victory in 1958. Althea Gibson also was the first African American to win the All-England Lawn Tennis Women's Singles Championship at Wimbledon in 1957 and repeated in 1958. After retiring from tennis, she became the first African-American woman to earn her card in the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), in 1964.

Reginald Weir and George Stewart
U.S. Open, United States Lawn Tennis Association, August 29, 1952
Forest Hills, New York

Two years after Althea Gibson integrated the U.S. Open for women, African-American men participated. Reginald Weir became the first of the two men to compete in the first round of the Open; George Stewart played the next day.

Arthur Ashe
Davis Cup, United States Professional Tennis Association, August 1, 1963
Richmond, Virginia

Arthur Ashe was the first African-American man to dominate men's professional tennis, even though Jim Crow laws prevented him from playing on the public courts of his native Richmond. After holding championships in the American Tennis Association (the African American tennis league) from the age of 12 onwards, and winning the national intercollegiate championship as a UCLA student, he was named as the first African American to integrate the Davis Cup team. He won the U.S. National Championship and the U.S. Open in 1968, the only tennis player to accomplish this feat. He was the first African-American man to win the Australian Open (1970) and Wimbledon (1975). His three-volume history of African-American athletes, Hard Road to Glory (1988) is one of the most comprehensive studies of this subject.


Related articles
Grand Slam: history of blacks in tennis - Special Section: 1994 Black Enterprise/Pepsi-Cola Golf and Tennis Challenge celebrates Black History Month
Jim Crow tennis

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