26 Aug Restoring a Landmark for African-American Tennis Stars
LYNCHBURG, Va. — A historical signpost here at 1422 Pierce Street tells the story of Dr. Robert Walter Johnson, who fostered generations of African-American tennis stars on a court next to his home there.
From 1951 to 1971, hundreds of players learned tennis and discipline under the watchful eye of Johnson, a medical doctor nicknamed Whirlwind for his speed during his college football days. Althea Gibson was the first to become an international champion; Arthur Ashe was the second.
Johnson broke barriers in his primary career, too, becoming the first African-American doctor given admitting privileges in Lynchburg’s hospital. But on evenings and weekends, his attention and energy shifted to tennis.
His home court became the base for the junior development program of the American Tennis Association, which provided playing opportunities and support for African-American players in the early and mid-20th century, when they were excluded from many competitions. Talented young players from as far as Los Angeles traveled to Lynchburg for intensive summer training.