Black tennis history
Black Tennis Week
A celebration of African-Americans in tennis
The rich history of black people and tennis in the United States goes back close to 110 years. It includes names such as Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, Zina Garrison, and Venus and Serena Williams. It also includes some little-known tidbits.
For Tennis Week, The Undefeated has combed through black tennis history to provide a timeline that proves when black folks step on the court, we’re about that action.
The first interstate tournament for blacks is created by Rev. W.W. Walker. The Philadelphia event was won by Thomas Jefferson of Lincoln University.
Rev. W.W. Walker goes on to win the following year’s tournament by defeating Henry Freeman of Washington, D.C.
Even with a change of scenery and playing on his opponent’s home court, Rev. W.W. Walker manages to beat Howard University’s Charles Cook.
Booker T. Washington’s son, E. Davidson, and C.G. Kelly help create the first faculty tennis club at Tuskegee Institute.
The Chicago Prairie Tennis Club is formed by Mrs. Maude Lawrence, Madelyn Baptist McCall, Ruth Shockey and Mrs. C.O. “Mother” Seames.
Harlem’s Colonial Tennis Club, later known as the Cosmopolitan Club in Harlem, is founded.
Plans for national tennis organization for African-Americans are discussed by members of the Association Tennis Club in Washington, D.C., and the Monumental Tennis Club of Baltimore. The American Tennis Association (ATA) was founded on Thanksgiving Day in Washington, D.C., at a YMCA and H. Stanton McCard is elected as the organization’s first leader.
Los Angeles’ Western Federation of Tennis Clubs is founded.
By winning the ATA women’s singles tournament, Lucy Diggs Slowe becomes the first African-American female national champion in any sport.
New York Tennis Association is founded.
The first private grounds for a black tennis club in the United States are built by “Mother” Mary Ann Seames and her husband, who purchased property on the South Side of Chicago to build the four tennis courts.
Dwight Davis, the donor of the Davis Cup, serves as an umpire at ATA national semifinals.
The first black-owned-and-operated country club in the United States is founded by the Progressive Realty Group, a group of African-American businessmen who purchased and opened the Shady Rest Golf and Tennis Club in Scotch Plains, New Jersey.
The Springfield (Massachusetts) Tennis Club and New Jersey Tennis Association are created.
New England Tennis Association and St. Louis Tennis Association are formed.
Reginald Weir and Gerald Norman Jr. are denied entry into the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) Junior Indoor Championship because of their race, even after paying the entry fee. Support from the NAACP resulted in a formal grievance after Norman’s father filed a complaint.
University of Illinois tennis player Douglas Turner is the runner-up in the Big Ten championships.
The Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) receive the Williams Trophy after it was donated by members of the Grand Central Station staff.
On the anniversary of the ATA’s Silver Jubilee, USLTA president Holcombe Ward extends his warmest regards to the organization … without allowing a single person of color to participate in his league. In the letter, he states, “I extend most cordial greetings and sincere wishes for the success of the American Tennis Association in its further development, work and efforts to maintain the high standards of the game of tennis wherever played.”
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American to participate in the U.S. Nationals. In the first round, she defeats Barbara Knapp, but would then fall to Louise Brough in the second round, 1-6, 6-3, 7-9. Before a thunderstorm descended on the court, Gibson was actually beating Brough. When the players came back the next day, Gibson lost three straight games and the match.
Victor Miller and Roosevelt Megginson become the first African-Americans to play in the USLTA Interscholastic Championships.
Two years after Miller and Megginson, Lorraine Williams wins the USLTA National Girls’ 15 Singles, becoming the first African-American to win a USLTA national championship.
Althea Gibson wins the French Championships women’s singles tournament, becoming the first African-American to win a Grand Slam title. She also left the French Championships with the women’s doubles title. Gibson’s success continued into the women’s doubles final at Wimbledon, as well, where she left London victorious.
Althea Gibson becomes the first black to win a major U.S. tennis championship when she defeats Darlene Hard in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3, to capture the U.S. Clay Court singles title in River Forest, Illinois. The match lasted only 47 minutes.
Later that year, Gibson wins the U.S. National Championships (now known as the US Open), becoming the first African-American to do so. Gibson was also the first African-American to play in the Australian Open championship, although she lost to Shirley Fry in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4. This would be the only Grand Slam championship she would not win in singles. However, Gibson would win the Australian Open women’s doubles championship in 1957.
Gibson lost the U.S. National Championships women’s doubles championship. That was the only doubles Grand Slam title she didn’t win. She won the mixed doubles championship.
For her wins in the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. National Championships, Althea Gibson was named the Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year.
Althea Gibson repeats as both U.S. National and Wimbledon champion. For a third consecutive year, Gibson wins the women’s doubles title match at Wimbledon. She also repeats as the AP Woman Athlete of the Year. It’s during this year that she also announces her retirement from amateur tennis.
Bob Ryland breaks the color barrier for black men, participating in Jack Marsh’s World Pro Championships in Cleveland and thus becoming the first African-American male tennis professional.
Arthur Ashe Jr. wins the National Indoor Junior Tennis Championship.
Arthur Ashe Jr. continues that momentum by repeating as the National Indoor Junior Tennis champion and also winning the USTA Interscholastic Singles Championship.
The Davis Cup team welcomes Arthur Ashe Jr., and he becomes the first African-American to make the unit. He wins the U.S. Hard Court Championships.
Playing in the U.S. Nationals at Forest Hills, New York, at age 15, Lenward Simpson becomes the youngest male to do so.
While attending UCLA, Arthur Ashe Jr. wins the NCAA singles championship and doubles championship with Ian Crookenden.
Arthur Ashe Jr. takes home the U.S. Clay Court Championship and the U.S. Indoor Doubles with teammate Charlie Pasarell.
Arthur Ashe Jr. becomes the first (and remains the only) black man to win the US Open. It was the first US Open in the Open era. That same year, Ashe defeated Davis Cup teammate Bob Lutz to win the U.S. Amateur Championships. To this day, he remains the only player to win the amateur and national championships in the same year.
Arthur Ashe Jr. becomes the first (and is still the only) black man to win the Australian Open.
Juan Farrow wins the U.S. Boys’ 12 Singles Championship and also wins the doubles title with teammate Lawrence “Chip” Hooper.
Arthur Ashe Jr. teams up with Marty Riessen to win the French Open men’s doubles title.
That same year, Althea Gibson is elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Two years after winning his first U.S. Boys’ 12 Singles title, Juan Farrow takes home his second championship in the U.S. Boys’ 14 Singles.
In the National Public Parks Girls 16U Singles Championship, Diane Morrison comes out victorious.
Juan Farrow wins the National Boys Indoor 16 Singles Championship.
Lenward Simpson signs with the Detroit Loves and in the process becomes the first black player in World Team Tennis.
Arthur Ashe Jr. wins the Wimbledon men’s singles title by defeating Jimmy Connors. In doing so, he becomes the first (and still the only) black man to win the event.
The NCAA Division II doubles are won by Hampton University’s Bruce Foxworth and Roger Guedes. Hampton becomes the first historically black college or university to win the Division II title.
Andrea Whitmore wins the National Public Parks singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles. She is the first African-American to win a championship and only the second woman to win three major events in the tournament’s 52-year history.
The U.S. Girls 14 Indoor Doubles is won by Kathy Foxworth and Lori Kosten.
The U.S. Girls 16 Hard Court Doubles, U.S. Girls 18 Indoor Doubles, and the U.S. Girls 18 Clay Court Doubles are won by Houston duo Zina Garrison and Lori McNeil.
Leslie Allen is the first African-American woman to play in the main draw of a professional tournament in Open era history.
When Leslie Allen wins the Avon Championships of Detroit, she becomes the first black woman since Althea Gibson to win a major title.
Yannick Noah becomes the first black man to win the French Open when he defeats defending champion Mats Wilander, 6-2, 7-5, 7-6. The 23-year-old dropped only a single set during the tournament and became the first Frenchman to win the French Open singles championship since 1946. He is also the last Frenchman to win that event. The victory was his first and last Grand Slam singles title.
Camille Benjamin makes it to the French Open semifinals.
Lloyd Bourne, a two-time All-American at Stanford, reaches the round of 16 at the Australian Open.
Todd Nelson makes it to the round of 32 of the US Open.
Pepperdine University’s Jerome Jones and Kelly Jones (no relation) win the NCAA doubles championship.
Lori McNeil and Zina Garrison face off in the Eckerd Tennis Open, which is the first time two black players meet in a major professional tennis championship. McNeil defeats Garrison, 2-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Northwestern University’s Katrina Adams becomes the first African-American woman to win an NCAA doubles title, teaming with Diane Donnelly to beat Stanford’s Patty Fendick and Stephanie Savides, 6-2, 6-4.
Zina Garrison and Pam Shriver win the Olympic gold medal for women’s doubles in Seoul, South Korea. Garrison also takes home bronze in the women’s singles tournament.
U.S. national team names MaliVai Washington to its squad.
Zina Garrison defeats Monica Seles, ending her 36-match winning streak, and then stuns Steffi Graf in the Wimbledon semifinals to advance to her first Grand Slam championship. Garrison would go on to lose to Martina Navratilova in the title bout, but by playing in the championship, Garrison becomes the first black woman to reach a Grand Slam final since Althea Gibson in 1958.
The USTA National Indoor 18 Singles is won by Mashona Washington.
MaliVai Washington reaches the Wimbledon singles final, where he falls to Dutchman Richard Krajicek in straight sets. Washington becomes the first black man to reach the title game since Arthur Ashe Jr. During this year, Washington is named to the U.S. Olympic tennis team, becoming the first African-American to receive the honor.
Chanda Rubin and partner Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario win the Australian Open doubles title, and Rubin fights her way to the semifinals of the Australian Open, where she loses to eventual champion Monica Seles in three sets.
Venus Williams hits a 125 mph serve at Wimbledon, becoming the first woman to do so.
The Wimbledon and US Open mixed doubles championships are won by Serena Williams and Max Mirnyi.
The Australian Open and French Open mixed doubles finals are won by Venus Williams and Justin Gimelstob.
Steve Campbell reaches the Australian Open’s round of 32.
Serena Williams becomes the first black woman to reach a Grand Slam singles championship since her sister Venus made the US Open final two years before and, in winning the US Open, becomes the first black woman since Althea Gibson to win a Grand Slam singles title.
Both the Wimbledon and US Open women’s singles championships are won by Venus Williams.
Serena and Venus Williams win the Wimbledon women’s doubles title and take home the gold in the Olympic women’s doubles. Venus Williams captures gold in the women’s singles championship too.
Sports Illustrated for Women honors Venus Williams with its Sportswoman of the Year accolade.
Serena Williams wins three of the four Grand Slam women’s singles championships: French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.
She and Venus Williams team up to win the Wimbledon women’s doubles title too. Serena and Venus Williams flip-flopped between No. 1 and No. 2 in the world. This is the first and only time in history that siblings have accomplished that feat.
Serena Williams accomplishes two major feats: The Serena Slam, by winning every Grand Slam singles title consecutively (though not in the same calendar year), and she also becomes the first black woman to win the Australian Open.
Scoville Jenkins, 18, wins the USTA National Open Hard Court title, becoming the first African-American to do so.
James Blake achieves the highest world ranking for a black man since Arthur Ashe Jr. in 1979. Blake’s five ATP titles propel him to No. 4 in the world.
Venus and Serena Williams win their second women’s doubles Olympic gold medal at the Beijing Summer Games.
Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga reaches the Australian Open final as an unseeded player, having defeated four seeded players to reach the championship. His ascent to the title match includes a straight-sets win over Rafael Nadal, the No. 2 player in the world, in the semifinals. Ultimately, Tsonga loses in four sets to world No. 3 Novak Djokovic. Tsonga’s first-set victory was the only set Djokovic dropped the entire tournament. Tsonga became the second black man to reach the final and would’ve become the second to win the event (Arthur Ashe Jr.).
Tsonga was actually the first and one of only three players (Tomas Berdych and Stan Wawrinka) to garner Grand Slam victories against the Big Four: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal.
The Australian Open Girls Junior Singles title is won by Taylor Townsend.
At the London Olympics, Serena Williams captures her first gold medal in the women’s singles event.
Madison Keys takes home her first WTA title.
Donald Young and Taylor Townsend reach the semifinals of the US Open mixed doubles.
Sloane Stephens wins her first Women’s Tennis Association tour-level tournament in 84 tries, defeating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straight sets, 6-1, 6-2. The 22-year-old becomes the first African-American woman to win the Citi Open since the tournament started featuring women’s events in 2011.
Katrina Adams becomes the first African-American, first former professional player and youngest person elected president of the United States Tennis Association.
With her win at the Australian Open this January, Serena Williams sets the record for most Grand Slam wins (23) by a tennis player in the Open era. She is now only one behind Margaret Court, who holds the all-time record (24).
Michigan’s Brienne Minor becomes the first black woman to win the NCAA’s Division I singles championship, defeating Florida’s Belinda Woolcock, 3-6. 6-3, 6-3, to become the first African-American to win an NCAA tennis singles championship since Arthur Ashe Jr. in 1965.
Books.google.com and blacktennishistory.com were the primary sources for this timeline.