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Match: Althea Gibson and Angela Buxton: How Two Outsiders - One Black, the Other Jewish - Forged a Friendship and Made Sports History


Althea Gibson first met Angela Buxton at an exhibition match in India. On the surface, the two women could not have been more different. The daughter of sharecroppers, Gibson was born in the American South and grew up in Harlem. Angela Buxton, the granddaughter of Russian Jews, was raised in England, where her father ran a successful business. But both women encountered prejudice, particularly on the tennis circuit, where they were excluded from tournaments and clubs because of ...

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Althea Gibson first met Angela Buxton at an exhibition match in India. On the surface, the two women could not have been more different. The daughter of sharecroppers, Gibson was born in the American South and grew up in Harlem. Angela Buxton, the granddaughter of Russian Jews, was raised in England, where her father ran a successful business. But both women encountered prejudice, particularly on the tennis circuit, where they were excluded from tournaments and clubs because of race and religion.

Despite their athletic prowess, both Gibson and Buxton were shunned by the other female players at Wimbledon in 1956 and found themselves without doubles partners. Undaunted, they chose to play together and ultimately triumphed. In The Match, which has been hailed as an "important contribution in spreading the legacy of Gibson,"* Bruce Schoenfeld delivers not only the little-known history of Gibson's life but also the inspiring story of two underdogs who refused to let bigotry stop them — on the court and off. Here, too, is an homage to a remarkable friendship.

*Publishers Weekly

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Editorial Reviews

L. Jon Wetheim
“Bruce Schoenfeld has written a terrific book...[that] limns the textured and unlikely relationship between Althea Gibson and Angela Buxton.”
Robert Lipsyte
“A reminder of the best and worst in sports.”
Lesley Visser
“Heartwarming....Both the book and the women are to be valued and respected.”
Bud Collins
“Schoenfeld captures the not-so-good-old days that are virtually forgotten in these affluent times.”
Chris Evert
“ overdue portrait of Althea Gibson.”
Starred Booklist
“It’s surprising how little knows about [Althea] Gibson...who broke tennis’ color [Gibson]...[her]due.”
Jon Entine
“A remarkable tale of a friendship.”
Washington Post Book World
“A valuable book...[that] illuminates a vanished era of women’s tennis.”
The Crisis
“Schoenfeld is a true sportswriter—able to bring to life the sweat and intensity of Gibson’s matches.”
Chicago Tribune
“A detailed look at an era, a friendship and a sport.”
Bruce Schoenfeld
Journalist Bruce Schoenfeld wants to set the record straight -- and, thanks to this valuable book, he succeeds. His dual portrait of Gibson and her Jewish doubles partner and friend, the Englishwoman Angela Buxton, illuminates a vanished era of women's tennis.
The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Professional tennis players today can earn millions of dollars on the tour and off the court, but that was not the case 50 years ago when Gibson and Buxton were two of the top women's tennis players in the world. Coming from widely divergent backgrounds (Gibson from a poor black family in Harlem, Buxton from a well-to-do Jewish family in London), the two hooked up in the mid-1950s and became tennis partners and lifelong friends. While Gibson is certainly the better known of the two, Buxton led an interesting life in her own right, and Schoenfeld does a terrific job of capturing not only the individual personalities of Gibson and Buxton, but also the spirit of the time in which they played. Both were trailblazers, and although Gibson had the more difficult road to travel, fighting to overcome racism, sexism and financial concerns, Buxton was often snubbed in English tennis circles because of her religion. Still, it is Gibson, perhaps the best female athlete of her time, who is the star of Schoenfeld's often poignant work. Gibson worked hard to become a tennis champion, but her inability to earn a living from the sport plagued her throughout her life, forcing her to engage in some madcap business schemes. Schoenfeld's is an evenhanded portrait of Gibson (whose description is not always a flattering one), and his book is an important contribution in spreading the legacy of Gibson, a woman worth remembering. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Althea Gibson, once the most famous tennis player in America, belongs to the "whatever happened to..." school of athletes, and this book by Schoenfeld (The Last Serious Thing) provides the fascinating answer with verve and style. A kind of dual biography of famous African American tennis player Gibson and unknown British tennis player Angela Buxton, The Match also describes the 1940s and 1950s in tennis history, an era before sports became an international obsession, tennis players earned salaries, or blacks competed in sanctioned events. In the tennis community, brash, gangly Althea from Harlem and wealthy Jewish Angela from England were ostracized because of race and religion. Undaunted, they teamed up as doubles partners many times and won a Wimbledon victory in 1956. Later, Althea played tennis exhibitions on Harlem Globetrotter tours, golfed professionally, and unsuccessfully sought a recording career. Afterward, as Althea sunk into poverty and poor health, her life once again became intertwined with Angela's life in a marvelous way. Recommended for all public libraries. Kathy Ruffle, Coll. of New Caledonia Lib., Prince George, B.C. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The story of an unlikely friendship between two tennis players: a black woman from the US and a Jewish woman from England. Schoenfeld (The Last Serious Thing: A Season at the Bullfights, 1992) opens in the 1990s, when former Wimbledon champion Althea Gibson, famous for breaking the racial barrier in competitive tennis, was destitute, unable to pay her bills or buy the medication she desperately needed to maintain her health. Seriously considering suicide, Gibson called her friend Angela Buxton to say goodbye. Buxton, who partnered with Gibson to win the 1956 Ladies Doubles Wimbledon championship, was having none of that. She calmly turned off the stove she was tending and listened to Althea's woes; then she helped her friend financially and solicited the help of others in the tennis world. This gesture was typical, Schoenfeld writes, of a friendship that stretched back more than 40 years. With this great serve of an opening, the author is off and running as he examines each woman's early life, tracing their paths from girlhood to their first meeting in 1951, when an awed Buxton asked Gibson for her autograph. It was the beginning of an extraordinary relationship that would last a lifetime. Though the narrative is a bit dry at times, Schoenfeld succeeds in solidly depicting the two women as they blazed through the tennis scene of the '50s, their friendship growing ever stronger. The author is particularly adept at recreating the tournaments Gibson and Buxton played, individually and together, although he lingers overly long on the details of the matches themselves. Sound research-but missing the personal touch. Agent: Andrew Blauner
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060526528
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/1/2004
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Bruce Schoenfeld, an acclaimed magazine and television journalist, is a frequent contributor to many national and international publications, including Sports Illustrated, Travel & Leisure, and the New York Times Magazine. He won Emmy Awards for his writing on the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul and the 1996 Olympic Games in Barcelona. He is the author of The Last Serious Thing: A Season at the Bullfights.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
Prologue: Angela 1
1 Althea 13
2 "Put Her in Tournaments" 27
3 Help from Her Friends 41
4 Breaking Through 57
5 From Forest Hills to Wimbledon 73
6 Angela Goes to Hollywood 89
7 Patterned Dresses and Pattern Tennis 103
8 She Didn't Have a Name 119
9 Rendezvous in Asia 133
10 Doubles Partners 147
11 Making History 163
12 Flatmates 181
13 Wimbledon 195
14 Angela's Ashes 211
15 A Black from Harlem, a Jew from North London 225
16 Althea's Championship Seasons 241
17 Second Careers 257
18 Together Again 271
Epilogue: Althea 287
Index 291
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First Chapter

The Match: Althea Gibson & Angela Buxton
How Two Outsiders--One Black, the Other Jewish--Forged a Friendship and Made Sports History

Chapter One


Althea Gibson was born in South Carolina, but at three years old she was bundled off to Harlem to live with her aunt Sally, who sold bootleg whiskey. That's the story as she tells it in I Always Wanted to Be Somebody, and we have no reason to doubt it. Althea's memory fadeed by the end; she was said to be unable to recall the details of a single tennis match she played. "I don't remember everything I did, or when, or how," she said in a lucid moment not long before her death. But there is enough verifiable fact already on the record to get us where we need to go.

She was born in Silver, South Carolina, on August 25, 1927, to parents Daniel and Annie. She weighed eight pounds. She spent much her youth in Harlem with her younger brother and three sisters, and couple of years in Philadelphia -- most likely 1934 and 1935 -- with ht aunt Daisy. This was not unusual at the height of the Great Depression. Families dispatched their children to live with relatives who still had work, and food to eat.

In Harlem, beginning in about 1936, Althea lived at 135 West 143rd Street, between Lenox and Seventh Avenues, in what are now called the Frederick E. Samuel Apartments. The brick is red from a new coat paint, but in those days it was brown. Fire escapes run up the front the building, as they did when Althea lived there.

She and her friend Alma Irving would spend hours at the playground shooting baskets, or at the Apollo Theater watching movies. School was hardly a priority. Althea would go truant for days at a time. She'd ride the subway all night rather than head home and face the whipping she knew would follow. Her mother would walk the streets at two in the morning, calling Althea's name. Her father couldn't control her, even when he used his fists. At one point, she spent a night at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, on 105th Street, showing off welts on her back where her father had beaten her out of frustration. It wasn't his fault, she allowed; she just couldn't stay home. It wasn't drugs, or sex, or anything more serious than stealing fruit from the Bronx Terminal Market that kept her away. She had a restlessness in her soul.

Before the war, Harlem wasn't yet a slum. That happened later, when New York's outer boroughs opened up for blacks, and then suburbs, such as Mount Vernon in Westchester County, did. White flight from urban areas is well-chronicled, but plenty of blacks flew, too, the moment the cage door opened. Why wouldn't they leave the congestion of Harlem, the crumbling pavements, the rusted fire escapes where children would waste away steamy summer nights, if they could? Many of the wealthiest, the most successful, and the most creative abandoned Manhattan for, quite literally, greener pastures. Count Basic left for St. Albans, in Queens. Cab Calloway, too.

Harlem wasn't a slum in the 1930s and early 1940s, but it was a ghetto. It was insular, a world of its own. Like the Jewish ghettos of central Europe, it housed people of all economic strata. An entire sepiatoned cross-section of American life lived on the latticework of city blocks, from river to river, from about 110th Street up to 155th. There were millionaires on Sugar Hill and bums in the gutter. There were preachers and housepainters, small businessmen and card sharks. There were blacks up from the Caribbean and blacks from the American South, two wholly different categories of people that often regarded each other warily.

There's Joe Louis in a famous picture from 1935, striding down a Harlem sidewalk in a three-button camel's-hair coat, looking majestic. Down there on the left, wearing a leather jacket and high boots outside his blousing pants, is the young Desmond Margetson, who had connived to work his way to the front row of the assembled crowd as Louis walked past and the photographer snapped, and now is grinning for posterity like a madman. Margetson would later play tennis at New York University and, in 1954, partner with Althea in a doubles tournament at the Seventh Regiment Armory. It isn't merely coincidence that the same names emerge repeatedly at different points in this story. The world was smaller in those days, and exceptional people found a way to achieve -- or at least to catch a glimpse of Joe Louis if that's what they wanted. Margetson would surface again in 1957, when his engineer's mind conjured up the idea for the tennis bubble, which covered an outdoor court and enabled enthusiasts of all races to play in inclement weather.

Harlem had its own nightclubs, of course; those were famous. Whites came uptown to see acts at the Apollo. But it also had good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods, restaurants, clothing stores, an galleries, even soda fountains like Spreen's, where black kids would squander a nickel on an egg cream or chocolate soda, just as the white kids were doing on the Lower East Side and in Brooklyn Heights.

In those days, government organizations took an active role in urban life. Centralized solutions hadn't yet been discredited. The Police Athletic League was empowered to close entire city blocks to traffic. Each summer, it commandeered blocks all over Harlem and called them Play Streets. There weren't many playgrounds in Upper Manhattan and even fewer parks, so the pavement became stickball fields and hopscotch and paddleball courts. Fire hydrants were routinely opened to keep kids cool. The police, those benevolent peacekeepers, supplied all the equipment; all you had to do was show up. It was like summer camp, except that you could hear the mothers at their apartment windows, one after another calling their children in to dinner.

The PAL regularly closed off a portion of 143rd Street. Althea wandered by one day and began to play paddle tennis, which utilized a short wooden paddle and a rubber ball, like a Spaldeen ...

The Match: Althea Gibson & Angela Buxton
How Two Outsiders--One Black, the Other Jewish--Forged a Friendship and Made Sports History
. Copyright © by Bruce Schoenfeld. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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  • Posted April 19, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Recommended - great for sports enthusiasts!

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book! It is a great story about the trials and tribulations that two young women in tennis must face during the 1940's. This story shows how two women, who are treated as outcasts, become very close friends and rock the Tennis world. Both Althea and Angela have to face issues and are lonely, until they find friendship in the other. Tennis is portrayed from a sportscasters' view, which I really liked because it gave me all the details about their tennis matches. This was not only a story about Althea and Angela, but it traced the course of tennis history during that time period, including stories of other tennis greats. I highly recommend this story about tennis, friendships and overcoming adversity.

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