Althea Gibson was one of the greatest athletes of all time and a groundbreaking woman in not one but two sports.

Gibson was best known for her tennis career, as she was the first African American to compete at the U.S. National Championships and won 11 Grand Slam titles throughout her eight-year career. Her athletic excellence didn’t stop there. Gibson was the first Black woman to join the LPGA.

Yet, after all her success and efforts to pave the way for so many women in sports, Gibson’s name is still somewhat unknown. However, author and historian Ashley Brown is hoping to change that.

Last year, Brown published “Serving Herself: The Life and Times of Althea Gibson,” a captivating biography about the ups and downs of Gibson’s life and career as a Black female athlete in the mid-20th Century.

When asked about her inspiration for the award-winning biography, Brown says it resulted from her passion for sports history and golf. After picking up the game 15 years ago, Brown wanted to learn more about African Americans in the sport.

Almost a year after the book’s release, Brown received the USGA’s 2023 Herbert Warren Wind Award, which recognizes and honors outstanding contributions to golf literature. In addition to the award, Brown’s book will also be on display at the USGA Golf Museum and Library, home to the world’s most extensive collection of golf books and periodicals.

She quickly realized most books on the topic were about Black men as caddies, not golfers. As Brown did more research on her own into the history of African Americans in golf, she learned of Gibson’s barrier-breaking career on the LPGA.

Gibson joined the LPGA in 1963, just two years after the PGA of America eliminated the “Caucasian Only” clause from its bylaws. When she made her professional golf debut, Gibson was 36 and a household name in the athletic world. Her playing competitors at the time said Gibson possessed the star power the LPGA needed to draw in larger galleries and sponsors, therefore moving the tour forward.

Though most of the other pros on tour, fans and media outlets knew her as a tennis player, Gibson proved that she was multifaceted. Not only did she make 171 starts on the LPGA between 1963 and 1977, but she also pursued a music career at the same time and became well known for her singing.


Althea Gibson poses with Willie Brown at the ninth annual North-South Golf Tournament at Miami Springs Country Club.


“She was a trailblazer for Black women in golf, and women in golf in general because, at the time, there were not many women playing golf,” Brown says.

As Brown learned about Gibson and her prominent career, she noticed that Gibson was often compared to that of another famous African American athlete—Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947. Brown says that people have called Gibson the Jackie Robinson of tennis and even of women’s golf.

But Brown didn’t want Gibson’s legacy to be minimized by comparisons to another athlete, or forgotten entirely.

“There have been so many great books written about Jackie Robinson that I thought, ‘What more can we do with Althea Gibson’s story?’ ” Brown says.

So, she set out to write a book that recognized Gibson’s athletic talent and honored her legacy.

Brown’s detailed retelling focuses on Gibson’s life and how it was drastically impacted by the world around her.

Readers learn what it was like for Gibson to navigate the athletic landscape as an African American woman in the midst of major historical events such World War II and the civil rights movement and experience the criticism Gibson faced as she challenged the status quo and shattered the mold in women’s athletics.

Gibson’s ambition, courage and determination in the face of adversity is a focal point of the book. And Brown gives the reader a sense of Gibson’s true character and personality by including her inner dialogue, a unique addition that Brown included by design.

She says it was important for her to capture not only Gibson’s life but her voice as well.

“Althea Gibson had a lot to say,” Brown says, “She wrote two memoirs and gave thousands and thousands of interviews. I wanted to make sure that I placed a definite spotlight on her ideas and what she thought about the times in which she lived and the times in which she competed.”

One issue Gibson was passionate about and outspoken about was women’s pay in sports, probably because it was a significant factor in Gibson’s retirement from tennis.

“I had plenty of cups and silver but not a lot of bread,” Gibson told the LPGA.

It’s a problem that female athletes still face, but one that many organizations such as the USGA are working to change.

Gibson was at the forefront of most of the important issues that athletes have had to overcome throughout history, and Brown hopes that this biography will give Gibson the recognition she deserves as the supreme athlete she was and all she did to carve a path for those following in her footsteps.


American tennis player Althea Gibson (1927 – 2003) holding the Venus Rosewater Plate after winning the women’s singles final at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, July 5th 1958. She defeated Angela Mortimer, 8-6, 8-2. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Evening Standard

“She has an incredible story, and her life has a great deal to teach us,” Brown says.

In the years before her passing, Gibson was fortunate enough to see her persistence and efforts come full-circle. She watched as a 17-year-old Serena Williams captured the U.S. Open title in 1999, becoming the second living Black Grand Slam Champion in singles. And celebrated again the following year when 20-year-old Venus Williams won Wimbledon in 2000.

Gibson passed away three years later at the age of seventy-six on September 28, 2003 in East Orange, New Jersey.

To learn more about Gibson’s extraordinary life, grab a copy of Brown’s award-winning biography here.

This article was originally published on