Althea Gibson on Alpha Kappa Alpha’s Founding Day

Alpha Kappa Alpha, Incorporated, the first Greek-letter organization for African-American women, was founded on January 15, 1908 by nine young female Howard University students. They were led by the vision of Ethel Hedgeman (Lyle); she had spent several months sharing her idea with her friends. During this time, she was dating her future husband, George Lyle, a charter member of the Beta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha. 

After choosing a name for their sorority, the nine women wrote a constitution and a motto. Additionally, they chose salmon pink and apple green as the sorority’s colors and ivy as its symbol. A group of seven sophomore women were invited to become members. They did not partake in an initiation ceremony and all 16 women are considered founders. The first “Ivy Week” took place in May 1909 and ivy was planted at Howard University’s Miner Hall. On January 29, 1913, Alpha Kappa Alpha was incorporated.

Althea Gibson, was born in 1927 in rural South Carolina. In 1930, her parents moved to Harlem, New York, where the opportunities must have seemed better than being sharecroppers on a cotton farm. Althea learned to play paddle tennis at a Police Athletic League play area. She became the city’s paddle ball champion at the age of 12. She was a natural born athlete and played many sports and was musically talented, too, winning a prize for singing in an Apollo Theater contest. She was not the best student and often was truant. At one point, she dropped out and went to night school.

Althea Gibson was the first African American to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated

Althea Gibson was the first African American to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Many mentors and other supporters who recognized her athletic talent spurred her on. She moved to North Carolina to train and give high school another try. In 1949, in her 20s, she entered Florida A&M College (now University) on a basketball scholarship because there were no tennis scholarships. She played basketball, tennis, and golf on the men’s team. She became a member of the Beta Alpha chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority, Inc.

She went on to win numerous titles, including Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals. She was the first African American to win both of those championships. Unfortunately, tennis at that time did not come with a means of making a living. There were no big prizes and it was difficult to make ends meet. 

Aug 23, 2013. The Althea Gibson commemorative stamp went on sale today. The stamp is part of the United States Postal Service's Black Heritage Series. It recognizes Gibson, the first African American to win a Grand Slam.

In 2013. as part of the United States Postal Service’s Black Heritage Series, the Althea Gibson commemorative stamp debuted. Gibson was the first African American to win a Grand Slam.


Gibson died in 2003. See this PBS American Masters preview for more information

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