Cham­pion in seg­re­gated sport blazed a trail on two courts

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Women's Sport Monthly - Rob Bagchi

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.

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