NEW YORK (Reuters) – A statue honoring African American tennis trailblazer Althea Gibson was unveiled on the opening day of the U.S. Open on Monday.
The granite monument sits outside Arthur Ashe Stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Gibson broke several color barriers in her career. In 1950, at 23 years old, she was the first African American allowed to compete at the U.S. Nationals, the precursor to the U.S. Open.
In 1956, she became the first black player to win the French Open and the following year the first to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals.
“She’s the first African American to break the color barrier in our sport,” said one-time professional player and former United States Tennis Association (USTA) chairman and president, Katrina Adams.
“By doing so, she made it possible for every person of color after to have a chance to achieve their goals in the sport.”
The statue, created by American sculptor Eric Goulder, is comprised of five granite blocks.
According to Goulder, each block represents the “boxes” society puts people in. Gibson’s image emerges from the highest one, which balances on its corner to emphasize how she transformed the world’s view of African American athletes.
“Her shoulder is exposed to make clear that those who followed stand on her shoulder,” said Goulder. The final box, which is aligned differently from the others, is meant to show that the world has changed, but not entirely.
Its inscription reads: “I hope that I have accomplished just one thing: that I have been a credit to tennis and my country.”
“This is a tribute that’s too long overdue,” said Adams. “The sport that she loved so much didn’t love her back as much as it could have… That changed today.”
Gibson died in 2003.