Anne Marie McLaughlin / International Tennis Hall of Fame has shared the following press release with us.

The International Tennis Hall of Fame will commemorate Black History Month by hosting two online speaking programs that shine a light on the history of Black tennis and its cultural impact on and off the tennis courts.

On February 17, historians Robert Cvornyek and Keith Stokes will speak on the history of Black Tennis in Rhode Island. This presentation is supported by a Rhode Island Council for the Humanities major grant.

In association with the Smithsonian Institution, Curator Damion Thomas will deliver a program on February 24 exploring the racial dynamics of Black tennis history as told through the life story of Hall of Famer Althea Gibson. Thomas is the Museum Curator of Sports for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Katrina Adams, immediate past President, Chairperson, and CEO of the United States Tennis Association will moderate this program.

Both programs will be hosted online at 7 pm ET and are free of charge, with donations accepted to support the ITHF’s mission to preserve and promote tennis history. Advance registration is required and is available on on www.tennisfame.com/black-history-month

“The Black History Month Virtual Speaker’s Series is part of a multi-faceted initiative by the International Tennis Hall of Fame to educate fans and shine a spotlight on Black tennis history. We are pleased to be able to partner with the Smithsonian Institution and local historians to share the important and inspiring stories of Black tennis history with tennis fans and all audiences,” commented International Tennis Hall of Fame Museum Director Doug Stark.

As part of this ongoing commitment to highlighting Black tennis history, the Hall of Fame also recently launched a digital museum exhibit that offers a comprehensive look at the history of Black tennis in America. Breaking The Barriers: The ATA and Black Tennis Pioneers features a multimedia timeline spanning more than 120 years of Black tennis history and is available to view at breakingbarriers.tennisfame.com.

Additional information about the specific speaking programs of the International Tennis Hall of Fame Black History Month Virtual Speaker’s Series is detailed below:

Black Tennis History in Rhode Island
Wednesday, February 17 at 7 pm

Presenters:

  • Robert Cvornyek, former chair of the History Department at Rhode Island College and is currently an assistant teaching professor at Florida State University
  • Keith Stokes, Vice President of the 1696 Heritage Group, an historical consulting firm dedicated to increasing knowledge of persons and institutions of color

Despite tennis’s emphasis on singular achievement, black tennis occupied an important social and cultural space in building African American communities in Newport and Providence in the early 1900s. Black tennis clubs, along with fraternal and civic organizations, encouraged participation and arranged tournaments that reflected the politics of respectability, but also strengthened racial identity, fortified community, and showcased an innovative form of cultural and artistic expression. The program will spotlight the Old Hometown Tennis and Athletic Club, which was established in Newport in 1927 by leaders associated with all four African heritage churches, the Newport NAACP, and other civic associations. The Black tennis club hosted tournaments on backyard tennis courts as part of a broader strategy to instill “social uplift and physical culture” among the young in Newport.

This presentation is made possible through the support of a Rhode Island Council for the Humanities major grant.

Althea Gibson and the History of Tennis
Wednesday, February 24 at 7 pm

Presenter:

  • Damion Thomas, Museum Curator of Sports for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

Moderator:

  • Katrina Adams, immediate past President, Chairperson, and CEO of the United States Tennis Association

This talk will explore the gender and racial dynamics of tennis as told through the life story of Hall of Famer Althea Gibson, who broke tennis’ color barrier when she became the first African-American to compete at the U.S. National Championships. Gibson went on to win titles at Wimbledon, the U.S. Nationals, and the French Nationals and be ranked world No.1. The program will highlight the resulting cultural impact of her accomplishment and of integration in tennis.

This presentation is made possible through the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s designation as a Smithsonian Affiliate.

The Hall of Fame earned this prestigious distinction in 2017 and is one of more than 200 organizations in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Panama to have earned this affiliation. The Smithsonian Affiliations program is designed to make the Smithsonian Institution’s resources widely available and to create collaborative opportunities to educate and inspire in communities across the nation.

Advance registration to attend the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s Black History Month Virtual Speaker’s Series is required. To register, go to https://www.tennisfame.com/black-history-month.

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