Althea Gibson Club Court re-dedicated in honor of legendary South Carolina native
The intimate venue was initially dedicated in 2004. The South Carolina State House drafted a Resolution declaring the tennis court in her name.
CHARLESTON, S.C. – Nearly 100 years ago, a Black girl named Althea Gibson was born in Clarendon County, South Carolina, not quite 90 minutes away from Charleston.
She would become a pioneer in tennis, as the first African American to win the French Open in 1956 and a trailblazer as one of the first Black players to break the color line in tennis.
While Gibson’s name and legacy is celebrated across the sport, she was honored posthumously in Charleston the year after her passing, when in 2004 the tournament’s secondary court was dedicated in her name: the Althea Gibson Club Court.
To help mark 50 years of tennis in South Carolina in 2022, the Credit One Charleston Open re-dedicated the court to her, with a South Carolina State House Resolution drafted to mark the occasion.
“What she was truly about is amazing,” said tournament director Bob Moran during a ceremony on Saturday (2 April). “What she did with her life, that’s what we’re honoring.”
Moran was joined by Don Felder, a member of the Gibson family, as well as State Rep. Jerry Govan – who was there on behalf of Rep. Wendell Gilliard – as well as Rex Miller, whose documentary, Althea, tells the incredible story of Gibson’s life.
“Good things don’t happen unless good people come together and put them to action,” said Rep. Govan about the rededication. “It’s a point of pride for the state of South Carolina to call Althea our own.”
“She was a dual-threat athlete, one of the first in the country, excelling in both tennis and golf. And she excelled at a very pivotal time in history.”
Gibson, having won five Grand Slam singles titles in the late 1950s, became the first Black player to compete in women’s pro golf, as well.
2020 was the 70th anniversary of Gibson breaking the color barrier in tennis, which was when the rededication was originally planned for. With the Credit One Charleston Open back in full force in 2022, the rededication was re-scheduled and – said Glenn Gilliam, the director of strategic partnerships for the documentary – it is a small token to continue to honor Gibson’s legacy.
“It’s one of those hidden figure stories that unfortunately, for women, all too often get swept aside,” Gilliam said. “For a woman to accomplish what she did and make strides in a sport that couldn’t pay her… Her story is about perseverance, excellence and commitment. That’s something Billie Jean King has said has inspired her, too.”
Gilliam gave credence to Gibson’s pioneering ways not only in tennis and golf, but as a singer, actress and collegiate tennis, player, as well.
“We don’t know enough about some of these incredible female champions,” he added.
Miller, the film’s director, came upon the project when he discovered a photo of his mother, Millicent Miller, with Gibson at Philadelphia’s Merion Cricket Club in the 1950s.
“Most people say ‘I never knew’ all these things about Althea,” Miller explained. “We uncovered a lot of interesting things about her.”
The documentary, which was being screened in downtown Charleston on Saturday evening, as well, is available for streaming on Amazon and can also be found on PBS.