Good morning to all. We will continue tonight with our Open Conversation regarding Black History. Please come prepared tonight via ZOOM sharing something about your hero or heroine found in history books. People such as the person I am writing about today, Althea Gibson. Use the same ZOOM used for Sunday Worship. See message below:
Throughout history, the African American athlete has made an impression on the sports world and the world in general, when provided the opportunity. If we were to look back over history, it is revealed that black athletes were pretty much shut out of sports. The sports world in the 1940s and 1950s was a very segregated and racist social world designed for basically whites only. But when an African American made his or her way into a sport, they were a force to be reckoned with. Many of you may have seen or heard how exciting it was to listen to a baseball game or fight on the radio and the black fighter or baseball player was dominating the game. It was more than just a fight or game, for their presence and tenacity changed the course of history. The black athlete, in many instances, has been a voice and a game changer for blacks throughout the years. Even today, the black athlete has the potential to change or impact race relations by using his/her voice.
During Black History Month, I have taken the opportunity to watch some of the great movies or documentaries about black athletes. Some of their struggles have been so painful and devastating, yet they persevered.
A very special and popular athlete I wish to lift up this morning is the tennis powerhouse, Althea Gibson. Her story is one of being a trailblazer and one who dealt with racial hostility and racial adversity. Even so, she broke color barriers and became the first African American to enter and win at Wimbledon and the U.S. national tournament. Every tennis player has the desire to make it to the super bowl of tennis, the Wimbledon tennis tournament.
In the late 1950s, Gibson won eleven major titles including three straight doubles at the French Open in 1956, 1957 and 1958 and Wimbledon in 1957 and 1958 and the U.S. Open in both those years.
Sports fans all over the world celebrated, marveled and gave recognition to Gibson being a dominate force in the sport of tennis. During an interview with the great Arthur Ashe’s wife, a news reporter had to be corrected by Mrs. Ashe when he referred to Arthur Ashe as being the first African American to win Wimbledon. Mrs. Ashe’s corrective response was with great pride, “No it was not Arthur who was the first African American to win Wimbledon, it was Althea Gibson who dominated the tennis world and won the prestigious Wimbledon.” Not only was Althea Gibson overlooked by the reporter, but at that particular time she along with other women tennis players made very little money, for there was no pro circuit prize money or endorsement contracts for black women stars. Even though she had reached a status of stardom, her story becomes a sad one because of her being plagued with financial problems.
Even with celebrity status and receiving all types of accolades from around the world from some of the most powerful people in the world, she had to take on menial jobs at times so that she could put food on her table and pay her bills. With her meager earnings, this princess of tennis had to quit before her career was over, some report. Her life had become so perplexed and difficult that she, according to a dear friend, contemplated suicide. According to the documentary that I saw, it was the dear friend who loaned her enough money to pay her bills and convinced her to keep on living. There was fame, but very little fortune for this woman who had done what no other black person had achieved. Though she reached out to multiple tennis organizations requesting help, none responded. It is recorded that Angela Buxton, Althea’s doubles partner made Gibson’s plight known to the tennis community, and raised nearly $1 million in donations from around the world.
Althea Gibson was criticized by some blacks for not being vocal about racial injustices, but she felt that her tennis racket and her winning spirit spoke volumes. May we remember that she was more than a tennis player, she was an American heroine who broke down racial barriers.
What we must not overlook is the fact that there was usually a white person who helped bring about change during the segregated era. In this particular case it was Alice Marble, a four-time U.S. Nationals champion who sparked change. As a result of Marbles’ written rebuke, Gibson was invited to compete in a tournament that would break the color barrier.
Philippians 4:12 comes to mind as I researched Althea Gibson, for she had to learn how to be content in good times and not so good times. The apostle Paul says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
It has been stated that Althea Gibson always had a dream of becoming somebody. I leave this passage of scripture with you, “Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us.” Ephesians 3:20
May we be reminded that all we have attained, become and acquired in this life is due to the power of God at work in us.
Not a sermon, just my thoughts!
Robert Earl Slade, Pastor