Althea Gibson was born in 1927 in South Carolina, but she grew up in Harlem, New York. She was athletic as a child, competing in horsemanship, tennis, and golf. In 1946, she was sponsored to go to North Carolina for tennis training. The next year, she won her first of ten straight national tennis championships for black women.
Gibson continued to play tennis while attending college, graduating from Florida A&M University in 1953. In 1950, she became the first black women to compete on the world tennis circuit. She won many tennis championships throughout the 1950s, including the Italian Championships, French Championships, and Wimbledon Championship (several years in a row). In 1957, she was named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year and ranked #1 in the world.
In 1958, Gibson retired from tennis. In her retirement, she recorded an album and wrote her autobiography. She also took up golf, becoming the first African-American woman to play in the LPGA in 1968. She was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971, and in 1975 she became the New Jersey Commissioner of Athletics, a position she served in for ten years before going to work in other public service capacities, including the governor's council on physical fitness.
Althea Gibson died in 2003, at the age of 76.