“People had never seen a black player before, and they didn’t know black people could play tennis.”
NITV brings you the definitive story of Althea Gibson (1927-2003), a truant from the rough streets of Harlem, who emerged as the unlikely queen of the highly segregated tennis world in the 1950s. She was the first African American to play and win at Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals (precursor of the U.S. Open) — a decade before Arthur Ashe.
The first black tennis player to compete at this elite level, Althea slammed her way through the colour barrier into the world of international tennis. With a style of play she described as “aggressive, dynamic, and mean,” Althea brought a fierce athleticism to the women’s game, ushering in a new era in the sport. Her singles win at Wimbledon drew the attention of the world and a ticker-tape parade along Broadway.
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Rex Miller’s Althea does more than celebrate a trailblazer in the world of sports. With rarely seen archival photographs and interviews with those closest to Althea, Miller creates a rich portrait of the African American community of 1950s Harlem who saw her potential and nurtured her talent – including the exclusive Cosmopolitan Tennis club, where the black professional elite pursued tennis on private courts of their own. Though her rough edges may have alienated some, Althea also inspired fierce loyalty. Althea is a tribute to the friends and mentors who made her transformation from a street kid to the Queen of the Courts a reality.
From Althea’s roots as a sharecropper’s daughter in the cotton fields of South Carolina, to her emergence as the unlikely queen of the highly segregated tennis world in the 1950s, her story is a complex tale of race, class and gender.
"She thought, 'Just let me be one of you', and unfortunately in the ‘50s it just wasn’t that easy”
- Billie Jean King
NITV, Monday 13 May, 11:45am
NITV, Wednesday 15 May, 9:30pm
SBS On Demand after broadcast