Segments in this Video

Tennis Gods React (02:03)


In this opening segment, viewers catch a glimpse of Althea Gibson's tennis match against Louise Brough in 1950. Lightning strikes a large, eagle statue causing its head to tumble down the stadium. The match is postponed.

Credits: Yom Kippur War (00:24)

Credits: Yom Kippur War

Fighting For Life (01:47)

Practice partner, Bob Davis, explains how Gibson's rough childhood shaped her into an aggressive woman trying to survive. Gibson's father physically fights her to engender strength and resilience.

Street Games (03:25)

Gibson's tennis career begins on the streets of Harlem, playing paddle tennis as a child. At the age of 13, she is introduced to the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club by Buddy Walker.

Proud and Urban (02:28)

Althea describes her style of play as aggressive, dynamic, and mean. Mentors, like Sugar Ray Robinson, struggle to teach Gibson the genteel social graces of the sport.

Work Hard, Play Hard (03:11)

Unable to participate in organized athletics, African-Americans create the American Tennis Association (ATA) in 1917. Gibson's coach, Fred Johnson, teaches her the basics of lawn tennis and she moves on to win the ATA national championship in the girls' division in 1944 and 1945.

Representation in Major League Tennis (02:48)

In 1946, Dr. Robert Johnson and Dr. Hubert Easton approach Gibson with the prospect of playing in the U.S. National Championships. In the winter, Gibson works towards her high school diploma and in the summer, she prepares for nationals.

Working Towards Acceptance (04:44)

In September 1946, Althea travels to Wilmington and experiences a distinct form of southern segregation. Dr. Eaton teaches his elite group of young, black tennis players the techniques of etiquette.

Built for Tennis (03:14)

Gibson learns a sense of discipline from Dr. Eaton. Her first summer tour, Gibson plays in nine tournaments and wins them all. Dan Rivkind comments on her perfect serving form.

Expressing Superiority (03:19)

Gibson maintains a psychological edge over her opponents. She struggles however, to make herself known as the first black tennis player to compete against world-class champions. After an article by Alice Marble stirs public opinion, Gibson is admitted to play in a title match.

First National Defeat (04:09)

In September 1959, Althea plays in the U.S. Nationals at the West Side Tennis Club. After a postponement due to weather, the next day Gibson loses the match to Brough.

Restrictive Tennis Club Life (03:25)

On August 30, 1950, a news article declares that Gibson was robbed, by the elements, of her triumph. At the age of 27, Gibson receives a bachelor's degree and continues to play the amateur tennis circuit.

Tour in Asia (03:23)

Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King use tennis as a platform, while Gibson simply wants to play the game. In 1955, the State Department sends Gibson to Asia on a goodwill tour to play exhibition matches.

Mental Man's Mind Games (03:32)

Gibson plays tournaments across Europe and learns how to play professionally, staying focused on winning and her health. When Gibson returns to New York, Sydney Llewellyn helps her to develop the self-confidence of a champion.

Winning Wimbledon (04:18)

In 1956, Gibson begins winning major titles. In 1957, Gibson competes against Christine Truman and Darleen Hard to win Wimbledon. She receives a hero's welcome in New York.

Rematch with Louise Brough (02:42)

In 1957, Gibson competes against Brough for the U.S. Championship. Confident and relaxed, Gibson takes the title of champion of the United States.

Winning and Singing (04:27)

Coach Llewellyn advises Gibson to win the national championship again to prove her talent is genuine. In 1958, after winning Wimbledon, Gibson attends the Wimbledon Ball. Gibson produces a jazz album, "Althea Gibson Sings."

Tennis and Politics (04:02)

Gibson's support from the black community is frayed as she continues to separate herself from civil rights and the negro plight. Angela Buxton reflects on her experience with South African apartheid as a child, and as an adult she finds a kindred spirit in Gibson.

Life After Tennis (02:59)

Buxton reflects on her time living with Gibson, specifically the day a male suitor knocked on the door in search of Gibson. Bill Darden becomes Gibson's first husband. After she wins the 1958 Wimbledon, Gibson quits due to a lack of funding.

Making Ends Meet (04:06)

Gibson performs on the Ed Sullivan Show, but her income remains low. With no way of making money otherwise, Gibson turns professional. In 1960, Gibson begins playing golf.

Neglected and Forgotten (03:27)

Gibson is self-critical and socially standoffish. Suspicions surrounding her sexual orientation arise, but long-time friend, Buxton, asserts the ridiculousness of this claim. As time goes on, Gibson become increasingly depressed and reclusive.

Althea Gibson's Decline (03:28)

In September 1996, Gibson, experiencing suicidal thoughts, reaches out to Buxton. In 1976, Gibson and husband, Darben, divorce. In 1983, Gibson marries Llewellyn.

Final Insult and Finally Support (04:14)

Gibson is honored at a U.S. Open tournament, but she is turned away from an exclusive restaurant on the same day. On July 18, 1996, Buxton publishes an article in "Tennis Week," calling on the tennis world to support Gibson.

Althea Gibson Came First (02:06)

Gibson lives out her final days in Newark, New Jersey. She dies in 2003. Gibson requested that her cremated remains be buried with the remains of ex-husband, Darben.

Credits: Althea (02:06)

Credits: Althea

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Althea Gibson emerged as a most unlikely queen of the highly segregated tennis world of the 1950s. Her roots as a sharecropper's daughter, her family's migration to Harlem, her mentee/mentor relationship with Sugar Ray Robinson, and the fame that thrust her unwillingly into the glare of the early Civil Rights movement, all bring her story into a much broader realm of African American history that transcends sports. Distributed by PBS Distribution.

Length: 85 minutes

Item#: BVL114710

Copyright date: ©2015

Closed Captioned

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