Google Doodle honors tennis great Althea Gibson

Althea Gibson was the first black athlete -- man or woman -- to break the color barrier in international tennis.

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Althea Gibson. Breaking prejudice. JanetTVShows/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The ones who made the biggest impact, the first impact, can often be forgotten.

Google, spurred not so long ago to include more women in its doodles, today celebrates Althea Gibson with a doodle.

Gibson's not a name too many may know. However, born August 25, 1927, she was the first -- male or female -- athlete to break the color barrier in international tennis.

It's not as if she was some tennis prodigy from the beginning, in the manner of the Williams sisters. She was simply very good at ping-pong.

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Google's doodle of Althea Gibson. Google screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

She graduated to tennis by winning tournaments that were created specifically for blacks players, who couldn't play in tournaments where whites played.

It was only after lobbying by the connected -- Gibson herself was born in South Carolina, but grew up in Harlem -- that she was invited to play in the 1950 US National Championships.

During her career, she won the French Open, Wimbledon, US National, and many other titles around the world. After she won Wimbledon in 1957, she mused: "Shaking hands with the Queen of England is a long way from being forced to sit in the colored section of the bus."

New York gave her a ticker-tape parade. She was also the first black woman to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Oh, and while she was at it, she thought she'd take up golf. Had the women's professional tour ever seen a black golfer before? No. Gibson changed that.

Google's doodle is a simple affair, showing Gibson at play with the Google logo as the baseline. Click on it and you can learn more about Gibson's remarkable life and career. (Which includes an appearance in a John Wayne movie.)

It's not as if Gibson's career paved the way for huge waves of black players.

However, as Venus Williams said in 2007: "I have all the opportunities today because of people like Althea. Just trying to follow in her footsteps."

 

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