It was only 17 degrees but the sky was blue and I had the urge to visit a statue on my "To Visit List" of landmarks to historic women--legendary tennis player Althea Gibson, located beside a 20-court tennis complex in Branch Brook Park, Newark, NJ. Linda was up for the adventure, so off we went. Dedicated on March 28, 2012, the bronze sculpture by Thomas Jay Warren represents Gibson making a backhand groundstroke. Tennis great Billie Jean King was at the unveiling ceremony:"Without Althea there wouldn't have been me." Seven years later on August 26, 2019, a bust of Althea Gibson was dedicated at the complex that had been renamed on August 28, 2006 for King--the United States Tennis Association Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Flushing, NY. Reflecting on the racism and prejudice that Gibson endured, King said: "She had such hardships compared to the rest of us . . . And yet she prevailed. That's what I always remember in the end. She prevailed."
The plaque on the statue in Newark reads:
“I hope that I have accomplished just one thing: that I have been a credit to tennis and my country.”1927-2003
By all measures, Althea Gibson certainly attained that goal. She was the first African-America athlete to cross the color line of national and international tennis at a time when racism and prejudice were widespread in both sports and society. In 1957 and 1958, she was ranked first
in the United States and won both the Wimbledon and U.S. Championships. Tall and graceful, with a powerful serve and a wide reach that went well beyond the tennis court, she paved the way for future generations of African-American champions. Her later years were spent in Essex County, where she could be found running clinics for youngsters on these courts, encouraging them to do the hard work it takes to be Number 1."
(We both noticed the tennis racket, a replica of what Gibson's used and similar to what we used during our growing up years in the 1950s, but nothing like the much larger slick and sleek racquets in use today, especially by professional players!)