Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 486
InI Always Wanted to Be Somebody , Althea Gibson gives a personal and colorful account of her life from the very early years on a small farm in Silver, South Carolina, through her second consecutive victory in the women’s singles tournament at Wimbledon in 1958. Her family moved north...
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- Critical Essays
InI Always Wanted to Be Somebody, Althea Gibson gives a personal and colorful account of her life from the very early years on a small farm in Silver, South Carolina, through her second consecutive victory in the women’s singles tournament at Wimbledon in 1958. Her family moved north to New York City’s Harlem when she was three. She had a lively if somewhat irregular childhood, playing hooky in the streets and film theaters of Harlem, and, as she tells it, spending only an occasional day in school. Introduced to tennis in the form of the street game paddle tennis by a play supervisor, Gibson became the New York City women’s champion at paddle tennis at the age of twelve.
Most of the book recounts Gibson’s difficult but ultimately successful efforts to establish herself as both a tennis star and a unique and independent person in the changing, difficult racial climate of the 1940’s and 1950’s. During the 1940’s, lawn tennis was largely an upper-class sport, and, like most sports, it was segregated throughout the United States. African Americans played in the American Tennis Association while white players competed in the United States Lawn Tennis Association, which annually sponsored the most important American tournament, the national championship at Forest Hills. Having broken the color line by playing at Forest Hills in 1950 and in the equally prestigious British championship at Wimbledon in 1951, Gibson entered a frustrating period when she continued to play well but never quite managed to win a major championship. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Florida A. & M. University in 1953 and taught physical education for two years at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri. In 1955, however, discouraged with her tennis and chafing under the racial injustices she still experienced, she decided to give up tennis and join the Women’s Army Corps.
Later in 1955, however, Gibson changed her plans abruptly when the United States State Department invited her to join three other American tennis players in a goodwill tour of Southeast Asia. The tour gave her a chance to sharpen her game and led to national championships in France and Italy in 1956. The next year, she won first the British championship at Wimbledon, then the American nationals at Forest Hills. In 1958, as this part of the book closes, she had just repeated her victory at Wimbledon, as she was later to do that year at Forest Hills.
In the final chapter of the book, Gibson sums up her thoughts about the meaning of her life, about the race problem and the ways she has tried to deal with it, and about her hopes for the future. Realizing that, at thirty-one, she has little time left as a world-class tennis player, she looks to a career as a singer, a role in which she has already experienced some modest success. She makes it clear that marriage is also a definite possibility.