Althea: The Life of Tennis Champion Althea Gibson (Hardcover)
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“A captivating book that brilliantly reveals an American sports legend long overlooked. Sally Jacobs tells the riveting story of Althea Gibson, my personal shero, who overcame daunting odds – on the tennis court and off - to stand at the world pinnacle of her sport and became an inspiration to many.” — Billie Jean King
In 1950, three years after Jackie Robinson first walked onto the diamond at Ebbets Field, the all-white, upper-crust US Lawn Tennis Association opened its door just a crack to receive a powerhouse player who would integrate "the game of royalty." The player was a street-savvy young Black woman from Harlem named Althea Gibson who was about as out-of-place in that rarefied and intolerant world as any aspiring tennis champion could be. Her tattered jeans and short-cropped hair drew stares from everyone who watched her play, but her astonishing performance on the court soon eclipsed the negative feelings being cast her way as she eventually became one of the greatest American tennis champions.
Gibson had a stunning career. Raised in New York and trained by a pair of tennis-playing doctors in the South, Gibson’s immense talent on the court opened the door for her to compete around the world. She won top prizes at Wimbledon and Forest Hills time and time again. The young woman underestimated by so many wound up shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth II, being driven up Broadway in a snowstorm of ticker tape, and ultimately became the first Black woman to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated and the second to appear on the cover of Time. In a crowning achievement, Althea Gibson became the No. One ranked female tennis player in the world for both 1957 and 1958. Seven years later she broke the color barrier again where she became the first Black woman to join the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA).
In Althea, prize-winning former Boston Globe reporter Sally H. Jacobs tells the heart-rending story of this pioneer, a remarkable woman who was a trailblazer, a champion, and one of the most remarkable Americans of the twentieth century.
About the Author
Sally H. Jacobs is a former reporter for the Boston Globe, a winner of both the coveted George Polk Award and the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Reporting with the Globe newsroom. She is the author of The Other Barack, a biography of Barack Obama’s father.
“A captivating book that brilliantly reveals an American sports legend long overlooked. Sally Jacobs tells the riveting story of Althea Gibson, my personal shero, who overcame daunting odds – on the tennis court and off - to stand at the world pinnacle of her sport and became an inspiration to many.”
— Billie Jean King
"Althea was truly a multi-hyphenate before that term came to be. Her name has often been listed in conversations about trailblazers and greats, but she was, in fact, one of one. As an African American female tennis player who won the US Open 60 years after Althea won the US Nationals, I recognize the opportunities this sport has provided me thanks to the courageous life of Althea Gibson. I was captivated by this book and by the historical context of Althea's achievements, her challenges, and ultimately her determination both on and off the court.”
— Sloane Stephens
“A gripping biography that tells the inspirational story of one of America's greatest unsung athletes who was a model not only to me but many others on the court. I might not have accomplished what I did without her opening the door. Let this masterful account move others to aspire to greatness.”
— Katrina M. Adams, Executive Director, Harlem Junior Tennis & Education Program, vice president of the International Tennis Federation, former President and CEO of the United States Tennis Association, and a former WTA Tour Player.
"A comprehensive and elegantly written life of Althea Gibson, one of the greatest athletes America has produced … An essential book about an incomparably authentic American pioneer and the times in which she lived.”
— Kirkus (starred review)
"Thoroughly researched and movingly told, this warts-and-all portrayal of Gibson’s life is a winner."
— Publisher's Weekly
“Engrossing … Jacobs [is] here to reintroduce a supreme athlete every bit as important as Arthur Ashe or Billie Jean King … [makes] an airtight case that Gibson is the most undersung athlete in U.S. history.”
— The Washington Post
“Jacobs gracefully chronicles [Gibson’s] triumphs on- and off-court.”
“In tennis, love means nothing. But love is everything when it comes to Sally Jacobs and her deft handling of Althea Gibson’s remarkable life and legacy. That sensitivity is most impressive when tackling Althea’s often turbulent days in Harlem, and Jacobs smartly evokes the give and take between a budding tennis star and her historic community. To return to tennis terminology: Jacobs aces this biography.”
—Herb Boyd, author of Pound for Pound—A Biography of Sugar Ray Robinson
"Althea Gibson was difficult to know and even more difficult to understand. Sally Jacobs has carefully documented the important events in Gibson’s career, bringing to light many details not previously reported while providing the historical context for the challenges she faced. The reader surely will come away with the sober understanding of the societal barriers a young, Black woman faced trying to gain entrance into a white dominated sport. Althea is a marvelous achievement."
—Gary Cogar, former museum director of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, exhibition developer of the 2007 US Open exhibit Breaking the Barriers: A History of Black Tennis, and former board member of the Black Tennis Hall of Fame