Desegregation of Tennis

On this day in history, July 29, 1940, African-American tennis players were finally able to swing their tennis rackets on the same court as their white counterparts. Interracial matches were held for the first time ever on the courts of Cosmopolitan Tennis Club in New York City.

This occasion was six years before the Brown vs. Board of Education decision and  seven years before the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama.

The protest in Druid Hill Park challenged the city’s segregation laws and became the subject of a column by H. L. Mencken. Mr. Weaver is believed to be the last African-American still in Baltimore to have participated in that protest.

The 1940’s was a period that represented the hard work by activists who stood up for their civil rights, equality, and desegregation. It was a time that foreshadowed the Civil Rights Movement and the essential plan of action for advocates to demonstrate equality and justice among all Americans. July 1948 was just that; it was a moment that demanded attention to the continual mistreatment and injustice of African Americans. A group named the Young Progressives of Maryland planned to manifest an interracial tennis match that would represent the unfair domination that segregation played in their lives.

Grand Slam tennis legend Don Budge and American Tennis Association champion Jimmy McDaniel desegregated the sport in a game that ended in Budge’s favor, 6-1 and 6-2. Budge then teamed up with American Tennis Association player Dr. Reginald Weir in an interracial doubles match against Richard Cohen and McDaniel. Weir would later go on to become the first African-American to compete in the U.S. Indoor Lawn Tennis Championship in 1948.

Althea Gibson, another athlete to set the mold of the tennis world, was an American tennis player and professional golfer, and the first black athlete to cross the color line of international tennis. In 1956, she became the first person of color to win a Grand Slam title at the French Open. The following year she won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals, she then won both again in 1958, and was voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in both years. In all, she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.

Prior to 1940, African-Americans were prohibited from joining any tournaments authorized by the United States Lawn Tennis Association and snubbed from participating in friendly matches.

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