NEWPORT, RI, USA – The International Tennis Hall of Fame has launched a new digital museum exhibit that offers a comprehensive look at the history of Black tennis in America.

Breaking The Barriers: The ATA and Black Tennis Pioneers features a multimedia timeline spanning more than 120 years of Black tennis history, as well as a concurrent timeline of African American history overall. The exhibit chronicles the struggles and evolution of Black tennis, and the lives and careers of Black tennis champions from the early 1900s through today.

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Breaking The Barriers is largely focused on the history of Black tennis in America, and it is part of a multi-faceted initiative by the International Tennis Hall of Fame to educate fans and shine a spotlight on Black tennis history. Additional programs in development include a future exhibit looking at Black tennis history on a global scale, virtual programs with guest speakers in February 2021, and an Arthur Ashe virtual reality experience in the museum based on the 1968 US Open. 

Through dynamic imagery and video interviews from the International Tennis Hall of Fame collection, Breaking The Barriers explores what was happening in Black tennis during five distinct time periods of African American history: Creative Survival (1874-1910); Entree (1910-1938); Reform (1938-1955); Participation (1955-1965); and Liberation (1965-Present).

Breaking The Barriers includes present-day stories as well, highlighting Venus and Serena Williams’ historic careers.

Photo by Getty Images

In addition to highlighting stories of celebrated African American Hall of Famers Arthur Ashe, Althea Gibson, and Dr. Robert Johnson, Breaking The Barriers also showcases some of the less widely known, but highly impactful, individuals and organizations who fought for opportunity and equality in tennis for Black people.

This includes pioneers like Rev. W.W. Walker, who organized the first interstate Black tennis tournament in Philadelphia in 1898 and Mary Ann “Mother” Seames, who was offering tennis lessons to Black children as early as 1906. The exhibit also highlights early champions like Ora Washington, an 8-time American Tennis Association national champion in the 1920s who also had a successful basketball career, and Jimmie McDaniel, a 4-time American Tennis Association national champion who famously battled Hall of Famer Don Budge in an historic interracial exhibition match in 1940.

For The Obsession

Breaking the Barriers chronicles the evolution and impact of the American Tennis Association, which was founded in 1916 from a collaboration of Black tennis clubs, and remains active today as the longest continually operating African American sports organization in the nation.

Throughout the exhibit, visitors can watch video clips from trailblazers who were at the front lines of Black tennis evolution and detail the exclusion they faced, how they overcame, and what they hoped for the future of the sport. First person narratives include Virginia Glass, the first female president of the ATA and the mother of two successful collegiate players; Art Carrington, an ATA competitor, tennis promoter, and historian; and Hall of Famer Althea Gibson, the first ever Black player to win a Major Championship.    

The Breaking The Barriers timeline includes present-day stories as well, highlighting Serena and Venus Williams’ historic careers, from their first televised US Open prime-time battle against each other to their success and impact on and off the court, as well as stars like Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, Coco Gauff, and Naomi Osaka.

Explore the exhibit at breakingbarriers.tennisfame.com.