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Tennis’s forgotten pathfinder Gibson is given a voice

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Altea Gibson’s journey from poverty to becoming the first black person to win Wimbledon is the fulfillment of the American dream, but she remains infamously unknown, the English playwright and actor who plays her on stage told AFP.

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Kemi-Bo Jacobs has attempted to remedy this by writing and starring in All White But Me, which is currently running at the Alphabetti Theater in Newcastle, North East England.

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Jacobs steers clear of the hard biographical route, preferring to cover Gibson’s struggles, the barriers she faced and her extraordinary success.

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Her victories at Wimbledon in 1957 and 1958, the French Open (1956) and the US Open (1957 and 1958) came at a time when, as Billie Jean King put it, everything down to the balls in tennis was white, and segregation still existed. force in many US states.

“In many ways, her story was the story of the American dream, from rags to riches,” Jacobs said in a phone interview.

“The daughter of a sharecropping family shook hands with Queen Elizabeth II when she won Wimbledon.

“Her journey is the universal story of how she was blessed with incredible talent to find her way in a world that doesn’t see her as her equal or provides the opportunities her talent deserves.”

Her desire to get to know Gibson better was prompted by the cancellation of a documentary about her life in London due to lack of interest.

“It pissed me off because I could feel her voice fading away,” Jacobs said.

“Fundamentally, I wonder why she is not remembered and who decides history, who is erased, and who is remembered and glorified.

“Hopefully with this story I encourage people to think about these things.”

While history may not have been kind to Gibson, it could hardly have been better when she was in her prime.

According to Jacobs, she received little support compared to the players she beat in Grand Slam finals, and she sometimes won a point, but was met with silence or racially slandered.

– “The Destruction of Barriers” –

It wasn’t easy with her fellow African Americans and the media because she didn’t talk about racial issues, unlike Jackie Robinson, the first black person to play Major League Baseball in the modern era.

“She didn’t feel comfortable doing it,” Jacobs said.

“Jackie Robinson has received death threats, which would understandably make her think twice before talking about it. Because of this, African Americans were unkind to her and called her arrogant and ungrateful.

“The press wrote that when she first lost in Forest Hills at the US Open at the age of 23, her performance was the biggest disappointment in tennis.”

Retiring from tennis in an era when only amateurs could play in major tournaments, Gibson became the first black woman to play on the professional golf tour. She then immersed herself in acting and released an album.

Jacobs says the play is not only about dark days but also about celebrating a wonderful life, though she looks forward to the time when it doesn’t need to be added that someone will be the first black to achieve something.

“This is a consequence of racism,” she said.

“We wouldn’t have this conversation if it wasn’t for the racism that got in the way of equality.

“I look forward to the day when I can talk about achievements and what they have done, not how they are breaking down barriers.”

Jacobs says Gibson definitely thought about it too.

“She never liked being called a black tennis player, she said, ‘I’m a tennis player,'” Jacobs said.

“If you are of a different gender or ethnicity, the burden of responsibility falls on you and you are considered a representative of this community.

“Althea really didn’t want this. She just wanted to play and her accomplishments spoke for themselves.

“Being visible was enough and I think that’s okay.”

pi / hj


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