2013 US Open: Tennis Legend Althea Gibson Recognized with Commemorative Stamp

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistAugust 23, 2013

Althea Gibson Stamp.
Althea Gibson Stamp.

The Althea Gibson commemorative stamp went on sale today.

The stamp is part of the United States Postal Service's Black Heritage Series. It recognizes Gibson, the first African American to win a Grand Slam.

Tennis great Billy Jean King was on hand this morning to unveil the stamp on the grounds of the Billy Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows. 

It also comes on the anniversary of Gibson's debut at the U.S. Open.

After intense lobbying on the part of the American Tennis Association, on August 22, 1950, Gibson was invited to compete in the United States National Championships, now the U.S. Open.  

The ATA is the oldest African American sports organization in the U.S. The organization traces its origins back to the late 1800s when historically black universities such as Tuskegee and Howard offered tennis to their students.

However, it wasn't until after the United States Lawn and Tennis Association (now the USTA) barred blacks from participation that the elite among blacks involved in tennis established the ATA.

Under the ATA, black tennis players participated in tournaments all over the country. But no matter how many tournaments they won, they were denied the opportunity to compete in the most prestigious events, including Grand Slams.    

Gibson was the first black player of either gender ever selected to play at the US Championships. She made her debut three days later on her 23rd birthday.

Camille Riggs-Mosley, whose late husband Dwight Mosley was the first African American elected to the USTA Board of Directors, told Bleacher Report that Gibson's career is to be treasured by all tennis fans. 

"This stamp and this recognition is important to all tennis fans," said Riggs-Mosley, who once served as chair of the USTA National Multicultural Participation Committee. "Black tennis fans understand more specifically that Althea Gibson's appearance on this stage was the first step in educating sports fans all over about the talent that had long existed in our communities. Althea Gibson provided the shoulders upon which so many others could stand."  

Gibson broke racial barriers in tennis the same way Jackie Robinson did in baseball.

She won 11 titles, including Wimbledon and the U.S. Open twice and the French Open once.

She died in 2003 at the age of 76. 

In a statement issued by the USPS, Billy Jean King talked about the significance of the stamp. 

“I’m excited that the Postal Service is releasing a Forever stamp that honors the legacy of my friend, Althea Gibson,” said King. “Her achievements served as a catalyst for equality in sports and in life and I am honored to participate in this historic event.” 

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