09 Feb Va. doctor helped launch careers of black tennis pioneers
African-American tennis players, from Althea Gibson to Serena Williams, can trace their roots from the grass courts of Wimbledon back to a small, two-story house at 1422 Pierce St. in Lynchburg.
That’s where Robert W. Johnson, a local doctor, decided to build a tennis court and in the process helped desegregate the sport he loved.
“Tennis historians have lauded the noble efforts of Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe in breaking down racial barriers,” Johnson’s entry at the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum reads. “Without the guidance of Dr. Johnson, however, Gibson, Ashe and countless others might not have succeeded so mightily.”
Johnson, who died in 1971, did not get started in tennis until late in life.