Black Tennis History Museum

 

The Black Tennis History Museum is an on-line operation at this time.  We expect to house the museum in a bricks and mortar facility in the coming years.  Until that time, we welcome any historic photos, racquets, photos or memorabilia that have significance to the Black tennis community.  Those contributors that supply material or content will be recognized on the article submitted.

 


The Call to Action to Create the A.T.A.

On November 1, 1916 a letter was sent to 55 clubs that were participating in the weekend gatherings.  This letter requested that each club send a representative to Washington, D.C. for the purpose of creating a National organization (ATA) to manage events and activities.  A copy of this letter is available for viewing.  This document was provided by Hall of Fame Inductee, Bill Davis.  See Founding Document


On November 3, 1943, the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club held its annual Dinner/Dance/Fundraiser.  This was a gala event held at the world-famous Renaissance Ballroom.  Notice that Hall of Famers Althea Gibson and Billy Davis are listed as program juniors. This document was provided by Hall of Famer, Bill Davis.
See Invitation

 


In the late summer of 1957, a watershed moment in the history of Black tennis occurred at Forest Hills in New York.  Althea Gibson captured the grandest prize in American tennis when she won the U.S. National Championships.  On that day, Althea became the first Black to win a Grand Slam title.  The following photo shows Althea and her coach, Sydney Llewellyn on that glorious afternoon holding the winners trophy.  Photo copyright Bob Davis.  View Photo


The ATA was created to provide opportunities for Blacks to commune with one another in a family atmosphere.  While some enjoyed achieving elite status, most simply enjoyed the camaraderie that these gatherings offered.  The following are select photos that depict the reason that so many looked forward to attending ATA tournaments.

See Photos #1


On March 30, 1958 Bertram Milbourne (B.M.) Clark passed away.  His passing was ceremoniously covered in the Daily Gleaner, possibly the largest newspaper in Jamaica, West Indies.  The headlines read “B.M. Clark, a great champion, sportsman and gentleman.”  But, B.M. Clark was more than that; he was the first Black man to play tennis in “The Championships” at Wimbledon!  The sub-heading of this article read, “So B.M. didn’t get beyond round one, but he was THERE in June of 1924!!!”  He lost to a Londoner, Carried Burr by the scores of 5-7,7-5,6-2,3-6, and 6-4.

To Learn more about B.M. Clark, click here!


Tuskegee University is said to be the birthplace of Black tennis in the United States.  Click on the link below to see a photo of officials of the ATA and players from the Tuskegee University team taken in 1931. (Photo from “The Negro in Sports”, published in 1939)

See Photo


A mere 18 months before his passing, Arthur Ashe, Chairman of the Black Tennis & Sports Foundation, a New York based organization founded by Augustus G. Jenkins, hosted a gala event honoring those African-American tennis players who had participated in the U.S. National Championships/U.S. Open.  This event was held at the Doral Hotel in New York City on August 23, 1991.  This was the first time, (and maybe the last time) that these ATA National Champions had been brought together.   Photo courtesy of Bill Davis.    See the invitation.

 


The photo at right was taken on center-court at Wimbledon in July, 1957.  Here, Althea Gibson is seen receiving the winners trophy from Queen Elizabeth.  To Althea’s left is tournament finalist Darlene Hard.  Althea won 6-3, 6-2.  Photo owned by Bob Davis.

 


Althea Gibson won the first of her Wimbledon titles in 1957.  Upon her return from England, she was honored with a Ticker Tape Parade through down-town New York City.  In this photo she is joined by New York Borough President,  Hulan Jack. Photo owned by Bob Davis.

 


Jackie Robinson, shown here with Althea Gibson in 1962, integrated Major League Baseball in 1947.  He attended John Muir High School in Pasadena, CA.  where he lettered in baseball, football, track & field and basketball.  He also played on the varsity squad of each of these sports while attending UCLA.  I bet you didn’t now that Jackie was also a standout tennis player who won the Pacific Coast Negro Tennis Championship Tournament in 1936!

 


 

Most people don’t realize that Althea Gibson loved singing.  After winning the U.S. National Championship and Wimbledon titles, Althea tested the waters by embarking on the
professional Golf Circuit as well as a professional singing career. If you’d like to listen to one of the cuts from her album “Althea Gibson Sings”, click on this link:  Althea Sings

althea album cover


 


Many of the younger players don’t remember a time when tennis balls weren’t optic yellow.  The fact is, however, that tennis balls were white until the new “Optic Yellow” balls were introduced into U.S.T.A. tournaments in 1972.  Photograph by Bob Davis.


This is a racquet used by, and autographed by  Arthur Ashe.  In fact, he won the Wimbledon title with one just like it.  By today’s standards, we wonder how he played so magnificently with a racquet whose head size and sweet spot were so small. Photograph by Bob Davis.


“The Championships” at the All England Tennis Club at Wimbledon continues to be steeped in tradition. They used Slazenger, white tennis balls until they finally broke with their stubborn tradition in 1986.  This autographed Wimbledon ball was inked by Arthur Ashe in 1975.  Photograph by Bob Davis.


Alexandra Stevenson graduated from high school in La Jolla, CA. in 1999.  Two weeks later, her entry was accepted to play at Wimbledon.  She became one of only three women to reach the semi-finals in her Wimbledon debut.  (Chris Evert and Anna Kournikova were the others.)  She was chosen Rookie of the Year by Tennis Magazine and “Most Fascinating” by People Magazine.  With a serve clocked in the 120’s, Alexandra had 57 aces during her run at Wimbledon.  With career wins over Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Jennifer Capriati, Alexandra reached a career high ranking of 18 in the world.  To the right is a ball autographed during one of her training sessions in Florida. Photograph by Bob Davis.


I bet not too many of you have ever seen a Wimbledon Locker Key!  Players at “The Championships” are supplied with a locker for their use during their stay.  I can only imagine that administrators expect these items to be returned upon the players’ departure.  So, for obvious reasons, the player that supplied the photo shall remain anonymous.


Early photos of Althea Gibson will show that she played with a little-known racquet called the “Dreadnaught Driver”. Manufactured by a New York firm, Harry C. Lee  Company sponsored many Black players in the 1950’s.  For some reason, most of us didn’t realize that the company also carried it’s own company-branded tennis ball.  At right see an unopened can of Harry C. Lee Championship Tennis Balls. Note the metal can and key to remove the top.  Photograph by Bob Davis.


This is a photo of the model of the “Dreadnaught Driver” that Althea Gibson used to win the U.S. and Wimbledon titles in 1957 and 1958.  Photo courtesy of Bob Davis.

This racquet still contains the “Genuine Gut” strings, although broken, that it was strung with more than 50 years ago. Photo courtesy of Bob Davis.

 


 

Not too many coaches have had their own racquet endorsement.  Sydney Llewellyn did!  This is very common with players, but honestly, have you ever seen one of these?

This racquet was manufactured for Coach Llewellyn in Pakistan.  I don’t know how many were produced, but I am fortunate that he gave me one of them.

 


 

Most of us are familiar with the on-screen prowess of actor Billy Dee Williams.  Most of us, however, don’t realize that he was born and raised in New York City graduated from the School of Performing Arts.  Before he began acting, he attended the National Academy of Fine Arts and Design in New York and in the late 1980’s resumed painting.  His acting prowess has overshadowed the fact that his art hangs in galleries around the U.S. including the National Portrait Gallery, The Smithsonian Institution and the Schomburg Museum. Back in 1995, Billy Dee painted a portrait of Arthur Ashe, a portrait sold to raise money for Ashe’s Safe Passage Foundation.  One thousand of these portraits were produced and I was the 10th purchaser.  Click on the link to see #10 of 1,000.


The Black Tennis and Sports Foundation was founded by New York Businessman Augustus (Gus) G. Jenkins.  Arthur Ashe was so caught up in Gus’s energy and determination that he became Chairman of the organization.  Many rising players received financial and other support from this organization including, J.J. Jackson, Jeri Ingram, Horace Reid and many others. In 1978, 7-Up and the Black Tennis & Sports Foundation sponsored a team of young Americans to the Ogbe International Hard Court Championships in Benin City, Nigeria.  Many formidable international teams were in attendance, most notably Russia.  Diane Morrison and Leslie Allen won the women’s doubles.  To see photos of this West African adventure, click here!  Photos copyright by Bob Davis


This photo was taken during the New York State Negro Tennis Championships, at the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club in New York City in August, 1940. From left to right, the players are:  Louise Graham, Mt. Vernon, NY; Katheryn Neal, Columbia, SC; Katherine Watson, Columbia, SC; Vivian Russell, Columbia, SC; Myrtle Beavers, New York, NY; Beryl Lyroke, Boston, MA and Lamarr Turpi, Poughkeepsie, NY.Photo by Bettman/Corbis


Most people don’t know that in the early 1960’s Arthur Ashe signed an endorsement deal with  Catalina Clothing.  As part of this endorsement deal, Catalina introduced an instructional poster showing Arthur teaching grips and all the strokes.  Here is an autographed original of that poster.


This copy of the 1961 ATA National Junior Rankings was given to me by Mrs. Jeanne Ashe.  It shows Arthur Ashe in his final year as the #1 junior.  The next year, 1962, Arthur would win the ATA National Men’s Singles title, the last title he would win playing in the ATA.  From that point forward, he would be destined for international stardom.


This photo was taken at the Southeastern tournament in Winston-Salem, NC 1964-1965 and the tournament was played on red clay.  Ronald Charity (standing 2nd from left and Dr. Johnson (standing 3rd from left), Joe Williams, Dr. Melvin Pinn, Bonnie Logan, Jake Wells and others are shown.


This moment was captured at the conclusion of the ATA Junior National Championships in 1961.  Bob Davis (l) defeated Charles Berry 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.  Most people don’t realize that the juniors played the best-of-5-set matches in those days.


This photo represents the doubles champions (Billy Morton and James Malone) on right, and the finalists (Eric Alleyne and Bob Davis) in the ATA National Championships in 1962.  Davis, who was defending Junior National Singles Champion, lost his title to Morton in 5-sets earlier that day.


This photo shows players leaning against Dr. Johnson’s famous Buick 225.  Always open to people of all colors, at left is Roger Cauthorn, from Connecticut, who died in Vietnam.  Joy Douglas is 4th from left and Bob Davis 2nd from right.


Deborah Jackson was one of the top African American junior players in the late 1970’s and early 80’s..  She was ranked in the top of the ATA, along with Zina Garrison and Kathy Foxworth.  Deborah’s career path took her to college instead of a pursuit of a professional tennis career.  Today, Deborah is President of Harobed, Inc., a company that builds leaders by offering professional training, consulting, coaching and speaking. 


This photo was taken during the creation of the Black Tennis & Sports Foundation in the mid-1970’s.  Shown from left to right are:  President and Founder Augustus G. Jenkins, Director of Tennis, Bob Davis, Director Althea Gibson, Foundation Attorney, A. Chandler Warren, Director Mayor David Dinkins and Chairman Arthur Ashe.

Arthur Ashe spent a significant amount of energy trying to elevate, not only minority talent, but minority coaches.  The article and photo from Jet Magazine in 1983 shows Ashe leading the charge to improve the standards of Black tennis coaches.  Along with world-renowned photographer/filmmaker Gordon Parks are Bob Davis, a founder of the National Professional Tennis Coaches Association and Gus Jenkins, founder of the Black Tennis and Sports Foundation.

Ashe Seminar

The year 2015 will be remembered as a year when Black Tennis History was made.  Since Blacks began playing tennis in the United States, none have held top-level positions of authority in the USTA, the sport’s governing body.  It is in 2015 that Katrina Adams, a graduate of Northwestern University and a former WTA player, became CEO of the USTA.  It is also the year that Martin Blackman, a former Junior National Champion, ATP tour player and graduate of Stanford University, was named Director of Player Development.  Martin replaces his former doubles partner, Patrick McEnroe.  We wish both of these “giants” of tennis the very best of luck in their new positions and expect great things from both!

 

Martin Blackman

Katrina Adams