on the ATA as that organization’s most cherished days. Gibson dominated the ATA’s women’s open field, winning the national title 10 consecutive years beginning in 1947. Ashe won three men’s titles from 1960-62.
“Our tournaments were usually held on the campuses of black colleges like Wilberforce and Bethune Cookman and played on six or seven courts because we were a smaller group back then,” says Virginia Glass, a former ATA president. ” It was very much a family affair. We always had the nationals in August when school was out. The juniors played with us. Many times, we didn’t even go into the city. We created our own socialization. There were parties practically every night and a banquet with awards. There was usually a fashion show. We played cards and all kinds of other games.”
It was in this setting that Arvelia Myers, a former ATA doubles champion with Jean Burnette, caught her first glimpse of Ashe, who at the time was nine-years-old. “I was playing a match, when I looked over and saw this little boy just sitting on the bench watching us. He never said a word. He just sat there and took everything down in his mind. He didn’t miss a thing. I watched Arthur play tennis from the time he was nine, and just watching him, you knew he was going to be a champion.”
Billy Davis had the privilege of not only watching Ashe, but of playing and beating him when he was 16. “But I never beat him again,” says Davis. “I think in his final year of winning the ATA title, he only lost four games.”
Davis also had the privilege of being Gibson’s warm up partner. She says Gibson was head over heels better than the other women in the ATA because of a serve and volley game that was ahead of her time. “She wasn’t cheating. She just dominated everyone she played,” he says.
Of course, neither Gibson, Ashe nor the ATA could have reached their full potential without the efforts of Dr. Walter (Whirlwind) Johnson and Dr. Hubert Eaton. After discovering that Gibson had dropped out of high school, the two men made a deal with her whereby she moved from Harlem to Wilmington, North Carolina, and attended school while living with the Eatons. In the summers, she lived with the Johnsons in Lynchburg, Virginia, and traveled to ATA tournaments. In later years, Johnson hauled Ashe and other aspiring junior players to ATA and other tournaments.
“Dr. Johnson was the spirit behind tennis and junior tennis,” says Davis. “He did it because he loved tennis and he loved kids,” adds Glass. “And he knew that unless he did something to help African- American kids, nothing would get done.”
Surprisingly, Glass says, the ATA Nationals of old were not as intensely competitive as they are now and that Gibson wouldn’t have matured as a player if she had played exclusively in the ATA.
“Although the ATA never discriminated, there were very few white people who participated in its tournaments