Gibson’s success at those ATA tournaments paved the way for her to attend college on a sports scholarship. She graduated from the school in 1953, but it was a struggle for her to get by. At one point, she even thought of leaving sports all together to join the U.S. Army. A good deal of her frustration had to do with thefact that so much of the tennis world was closed off to her. The white-dominated, white-managed sport was segregated in the U.S. in much the same way that the world around it was. The breaking point came in 1950 when Alice Mable, a former tennis No. 1 herself, wrote a piece in American Lawn Tennis magazine lambasting her sport for denying a playerof Gibson’s caliber to compete in the world’s best tournaments. Mable’s article caught notice and in 1951, and Gibson made history when she became the first African-American ever invited to play at Wimbledon. A year later, she was a Top 10 player in the U.S. She then climbed even higher, to No. 7 in 1953.
In 1955, Gibson and her game were sponsored by the United States Lawn Tennis Association, which sent her around the world on a State Department tour that saw her compete in places like India, Pakistan and Burma. Measuring 5-feet 11-inches, and possessing superb power andathletic skill, Gibson seemed destined for bigger victories. In 1956,it all came together when she won the French Open. Wimbledon and U.S.Open titles followed in 1957 and 1958. In all, Gibson powered her wayto 56 singles and doubles championships before turning pro in 1959.
For her part, however, Gibson downplayed her pioneering role. “I have never regarded myself as a crusader,” she said in her 1958autobiography, I Always Wanted to Be Somebody. “I don’t consciouslybeat the drums for any cause, not even the negro in the United States.”