Champion in segregated sport blazed a trail on two courts
In 1947, aged 48, Washington won her final ATA title, the mixed doubles with George Stewart. Across the net that day was 19-year-old singles champion Althea Gibson who, three years later and following a long campaign, would become the first AfricanAmerican player to receive an invitation to the US Nationals. She won it in 1957 and 1958, the same years she won Wimbledon.
Only recently have black players enjoyed the esteem that should have been Washington’s and, in a rare interview in 1969, she argued that there was still a long road ahead. “I just hope the day comes,” she said, “when all athletes, regardless of race, can compete against each other and get the recognition they deserve based solely on their ability.”
In retirement she coached at the YWCA and on the public courts in Philadelphia, funded by the Roosevelt administration and inspired by her triumphs and prestige in black society. She died in 1971, her achievements hardly known, but posthumouslyshe has become a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, Black Athletes Hall of Fame and Black Tennis Hall of Fame.
All that is left as her due is a place in the International Tennis Hall of Fame, something her achievements and legacy surely merit.
It would also partially atone for a historic injustice inflicted not only upon her but all proud champions of segregated sport. Washington was a national treasure in a nation that was too prejudiced to notice.