Footsteps: A Look at the Paths Paved by Althea Gibson and Serena Williams

Saturday, 03 January 2009 11:23 Written by  Cicely V. Teal

Each issue of GlossMagazineOnline will present to you black women who have made an impact on society and those who have tread meticulously in their path. African American women in every era from slavery to civil rights, politics to business, and sports to entertainment have set a prevailing path for the next generation of history makers.  Black women have been globally venerated and are truly exemplary.

Althea Gibson

GlossMagazineOnline salutes the definitive accomplishments and grandeur of the African American woman. Follow the footsteps of two powerful trailblazing sports figures––Althea Gibson and Serena Williams.

Althea Gibson was the first African American to win championships at Wimbledon, the Australian Doubles, United States Open, and three straight doubles crowns at the French Open. She won her first Grand Slam title in 1956 and was ranked No.1 in the world. She was voted by the Associated Press as its Female Athlete of the year in 1957. Gibson was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City after returning from Wimbledon where she won two consecutive singles championships. In 1958 she won her third consecutive Wimbledon women’s doubles title and won the singles title at the U.S. championships. That same year Gibson retired, an athlete to the core, she could not rest.

Gibson set her sights on golf during her retirement and subsequently became the first African-American woman to play in the Ladies Professional Golf Association. In 1971 after a host of successes, Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She was appointed the New Jersey State commissioner of Athletics in 1975 where she remained for 10 years. Then she served on the State’s Athletics Control Board until 1988 and the Governor’s Council on physical fitness until 1992. Althea Gibson died on September 28, 2003 at the age of 76, but this daughter of a sharecropper left a legacy. She paved the way for other African Americans to grace the court. One woman born from her legacy is Serena Williams.

Serena Williams Serena Williams was formerly ranked No.1 in the world. Now holding the No. 2 position, she has won 18 Grand Slam titles and two Olympic gold medals in Women’s doubles. She has held four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously and has also been ranked as the 17th best player in the last 40 years. Serena became a professional tennis player at the age of 14. Her intimidating playing style and powerhouse presence on the court has garnered an abundance of accolades and equal criticism, but Serena has proven through countless record breaking wins that she is a force to be reckoned with. Just like Althea Gibson Serena has won the French, U.S., and Australian Open as well as Wimbledon in both doubles and singles. Most recently Serena has used her celebrity to inspire and educate others.

Williams is the global ambassador for Hewlett Packard. She partnered with HP and Build African schools to open the Serena Williams Secondary in Kenya. When Serena was 17 years old she faxed a list of questions to Althea Gibson for a project she was working on in school. The questions and answers are unknown, but what is known is that the torch was passed. Althea Gibson once said, “I hope that I have accomplished one thing; that I have been a credit to tennis and my country.” It was a hope that has manifested and given to a new generation of African American women pioneers like Serena. I surmise that Serena Williams is unknowingly preparing the next woman of influence to make history in the world of tennis.

Cicely V. Teal

Cicely V. Teal

Cicely V. Teal graduated from Northeastern Illinois University with a B.A. in Communication and Depaul Univeristy with a M.A in Journalism. She contributed to and maintained a column at N’Digo Magapaper, and wrote for Urban Influence Magazine, Breaking Tweets, The DePaulia and The Independent. She also worked on documentary projects at WTTW channel 11, children’s television programming at WCIU-TV and African American programming at Central City Productions.

She is a blogger and studies web analytics, social networking strategies and integrated marketing at the University of Chicago.

She can be contacted at