Althea Gibson Sculpture Unveiled at 2019 US Open
(August 26, 2019) FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – The USTA today unveiled a dramatic new sculpture honoring trailblazer and tennis great Althea Gibson. The sculpture, created by Eric Goulder, was unveiled outside Arthur Ashe Stadium on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the US Open.
Gibson became the first African-American tennis player, male or female, to win the title at the U.S. National Championships (now the US Open) in 1957. She was a trailblazer of great talent and greater courage, who overcame many obstacles while compiling a career filled with firsts. In addition to breaking the color barrier in tennis (1950), she was the first African- American to win singles titles at the French Championships (1956), Wimbledon (1957) and the U.S. Nationals (1957). In 1958, she repeated both her Wimbledon and U.S. wins. With her success, she became the first African-American to be named Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year (1957 and 1958). Gibson won 11 Grand Slam titles in all, adding six doubles crowns to her five major singles crowns. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971 and was inducted into the US Open Court of Champions in 2007.
“Althea Gibson’s talent, strength and unrelenting desire to achieve made her a great champion,” said Patrick Galbraith, President and Chairman of the Board, USTA. “She made tennis a better place, by opening doors and opening minds, doing so with grace and dignity. She is receiving a recognition she richly deserves.”
“It’s simple. She’s the first African-American to break the color barrier in our sport,” said former USTA Chairman Katrina Adams. “By doing so, she made it possible for every person of color after her to have a chance to achieve their goals in the sport. This is a tribute that’s long overdue—period.”
In a post event news conference, Billie Jean King addressed Gibson’s legacy:
“I think it’s really important for people to know about Althea Gibson. Not only who she is but what she represented to all of us, being the first African American to break the color line here at the U.S. Nationals. In those days it was U.S. Nationals and then in 1968 it became the US Open. And that’s when tennis became pro.
“As you noticed through Angela Buxton speaking, she had no money. I also was a part of what she went through, so we used to get our expenses exactly the same way at Wimbledon and whatnot.
“What people have to understand is how she persevered and what she means to our sport. But not just to our sport, to all society, to everyone. I want the young generations to understand what she did for all of us, particularly people of color, but inspired all of us.
“You know, I know I’m a white girl, but as a 13-year-old, she totally inspired me, and that can happen to anybody. Doesn’t matter what color. I obviously have not had to deal with the challenges that my sisters of color and brothers of color. But I think for young people, the more you know about history, the more you know about yourself. It helps you shape the future.
“That’s the most important thing I tried to get along to kids: History is not about the past. It is living history. History is constantly living. Every single thing you do during the day is history. Everything we all do, each one of us is accumulating history. And it’s very important that each person know that they are an influencer and they can make a difference.
“What Althea Gibson does is she makes us pause, focus, and think about her life but also inspire us to carry on her legacy and the legacy of others that came before us.
“Every generation has to continue the process and the fight to keep freedom available, to keep — to get rid of sexism and racism. Right now I think we have a lot of racism. Every generation. Coretta Scott King talks about every generation has to continue to fight for freedom and every generation has to win it. That’s what each generation has to do.
“But Althea is a very strong reminder that that’s important to the living people right now that we carry on her legacy and the legacy of equality.
“Of course being Women’s Equality Day, I couldn’t believe how fortunate it was to have that, as well, today. She went to Texas A&M, made the dean’s list. I think as she first grew up she thought small and then she thought very large. If you see her going from small thinking to very large thinking. I think I heard that from somebody else probably so I’m stealing it from somebody, but I can’t remember who.
“But I think it’s very important for us to see how a person’s life can evolve over time with people championing her. She was very fortunate with Dr. Johnson and Dr. Eaton and the families.
“If you read, ‘I Always Wanted to Be Somebody’, which I continually read, by the way, pick it up every so often just to remind me how lucky I am, that I was just right after her. She played Wimbledon in 1957. My first Wimbledon was 1961. So I’m right behind her. I mean, I feel like where I’m a continuation of what she was going — what her generation was going through. Not just Althea but Angela Buxton, people you hear from, and how there was no money and yet the love of the sport carried you on.”
Serena and Venus Williams were both asked about Gibson’s legacy during their post match news conferences.
Venus said: “I have spoken about Althea extensively. I would love if people knew her more. It wasn’t easy to be African American in the ’50s. It was actually, I wouldn’t even say easy, it was impossible to do that, and she did it and was a champion. I can’t even imagine what she went through.
“And because she went through that — she went through it so I didn’t have to. What she achieved, her story hasn’t been told, so that statue is the beginning of what we should be doing for Althea.”
“I think it(the statue) sends a great message to me in particular, knowing her story, knowing Althea, what she went through,” said Serena. “Being truly the first pioneer, an African American in tennis, just to a sport that wasn’t open to black people.
“For her to now have a statue, all the things she’s done for people like me, people that look like me, to be in the sport now, it’s just astonishing.”
Created by noted American sculptor Eric Goulder, the Althea Gibson sculpture is comprised of a bust of Althea rising from a granite block placed amid a group of five other granite blocks. The bust of Althea is 3.5 times life-size and each of the five granite blocks weighs 2.7 tons. Altogether, the sculpture weighs more than 18 tons. The Althea bust is patinated bronze, made in water-based clay, molded and cast using the lost wax method. Goulder spent roughly three months on the model and three months on the large clay. The molding and casting took an additional three months. The model was made in a 600-year-old villa in the hills surrounding Florence, Italy, that was once owned by Machiavelli and remained in his family for 150 years. The large clay and bronze cast was made in Pietrasanta, Italy, at the foundry, Massimo Del Chiaro. The granite used for the blocks comes from South Africa. It was cut and hand-flamed at Henraux S.p.A Marble and Granite Company in Querceta, Italy. The monument was shipped in six crates by boat and traveled 4,146 miles to reach its present location.
King asked Goulder about how he channeled Gibson to create the statue:” I thought about her for a long time when they asked me to submit a proposal. I thought, well, she was different. You know, I didn’t want to make a sporting sculpture with just somebody posing. To me, it’s not interesting.
“She was such a groundbreaker that I thought, I have to do something that’s groundbreaking to honor her.
“So for about two weeks I sat there and thought a lot about every day. Then I came up with the idea of the boxes. Because this is the way that the world was and this is the way people liked to see the world in this order. She shattered that order.”
“They (boxes) represent — the whole sculpture reads from left to right. So things were this way. Then there is the shift, the one that has her name on it because that would have been Jackie Robinson and the letter of Alice Marble. Things were brewing in the world that would allow her to do what she did.
“She didn’t just break the color barrier. She became the best in the world. This was at a time when people were like, Black people can’t play tennis.
“So she basically turned that same shape on its corner, which is a way more interesting shape, and once you see it that way you never see it the other way. That was the idea behind that.
“So she emerges out of that cube, box. Her shoulder is exposed because that’s the shoulder that everybody since has stood on. And then the remaining box that has her quote on it, as you see, it’s still back down there but it’s shifted because unfortunately the world hasn’t totally changed. She disrupted it and it’s never been the same and it never will be.”
To enhance fan interaction with the piece, the sculpture also will activate an augmented reality experience. Developed by MRM/McCann, visitors will be able to activate exclusive content about Althea Gibson’s life and legacy by focusing the Augmented Reality (AR) Viewfinder found within the 2019 US Open app onto the sculpture. Narrated by Billie Jean King, the additional AR experience traces Althea’s humble roots, her early interest and involvement in tennis, her career and her legacy through video footage, photos and graphics. Fans can also view the AR experience anywhere by using the APP to place a full-size 3D “hologram” of the sculpture into their surroundings and re-live the experience again or for the very first time.
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