(Original publication: August 28, 2007)
NEW YORK – A Who’s Who of black female pioneers was in the hallway inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, including former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun, billionaire Sheila Crump Johnson and Tony Award-winner Phylicia Rashad. And despite all their credentials, they all started applauding when Venus Williams walked past on her way to the court.
“I wish I had more time to say hello, but center court’s calling,” Williams said. “It’s amazing, more than fantastic. Its very special.”
The women were in the hallway after taking part in an hour-long celebration of Althea Gibson, the daughter of sharecroppers in South Carolina who broke the color barrier at the U.S. Championships (now the U.S. Open) in 1950 and won the title 50 years ago. She was also the first African-American winner at the French Open (1956) and Wimbledon (1957).
After that, no black woman won any of those tournaments until Serena Williams took the U.S. Open in 1999 and Venus Williams followed with the Wimbledon championship in 2000.
The sisters followed the ceremony with first-round matches in front of a night-session-record 23,737 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.