NEW YORK, NY, USA – Billie Jean King has paid a glowing tribute to Althea Gibson after the unveiling of a statue dedicated to her at the US Open on Monday.
Gibson, who would have turned 92 on Sunday, was a five-time Grand Slam singles winner in the 1950s, becoming the first Africa American to win a major when she picked up the 1956 French Open crown. Subsequently, she did the Wimbledon-US Open double in both 1957 and 1958.
As such, she is recognized as one of the legends of the sport, as King, herself a 12-time major winner, was happy to explain.
“This woman is extraordinary, and she deserves this attention and she will inspire. If people really learn her story, believe me, it will inspire them to do great things with their lives,” she said as the statue was fittingly made public on Women's Equality Day.
“I think it's really important for people to know about Althea. Not only who she is but what she represented to all of us, being the first African American to break the color line here at the U.S. Nationals.
“What people have to understand is how she persevered and what she means to our sport. But not just to our sport, to all society, to everyone. I want the young generations to understand what she did for all of us, particularly people of color, but inspired all of us.
“You know, I know I'm a white girl, but as a 13-year-old, she totally inspired me, and that can happen to anybody. I obviously have not had to deal with the challenges that my sisters of color and brothers of color have, but I think for young people, the more you know about history, the more you know about yourself. It helps you shape the future.
“What Althea Gibson does is she makes us pause, focus, and think about her life but also inspire us to carry on her legacy and the legacy of others that came before us.
“Althea is a very strong reminder that that's important to the living people right now that we carry on her legacy and the legacy of equality.”
King has been noted as one of the driving forces behind equality in women’s sports and says that Gibson was one of her inspirations in that regard.
“I knew if Althea had gone through what she had gone through and changed the world, that I had a chance to follow in her footsteps and help change the next generations,” she said.
Eric Goulder is the designer behind the statue and echoed those views on Gibson’s influence.
“I thought about her for a long time when they asked me to submit a proposal. She was such a groundbreaker that I thought, ‘I have to do something that's groundbreaking to honor her,’” he said.
“So for about two weeks I sat there and thought a lot about every day. Then I came up with the idea of the boxes. Because this is the way that the world was and this is the way people liked to see the world in this order. She shattered that order.
“She didn't just break the color barrier. She became the best in the world. This was at a time when people were like, Black people can't play tennis.
“So she basically turned that same shape on its corner, which is a way more interesting shape, and once you see it that way you never see it the other way. That was the idea behind that.
“So she emerges out of that cube, box. Her shoulder is exposed because that's the shoulder that everybody since has stood on. And then the remaining box that has her quote on it, as you see, it's still back down there but it's shifted because unfortunately the world hasn't totally changed. She disrupted it and it's never been the same and it never will be.”