These days the usage of contemporary colloquialisms within the boundaries of an article meant for mass consumption is frowned upon by polite society, but I have to segue from that line of thinking when attempting to describe the grittiness of one Althea Gibson. To put it as simply as possible, Althea Gibson was a capital G!

Born the daughter of sharecroppers in South Carolina, Gibson moved to Harlem at a very young age and became the quintessential New Yorker. Young Althea would often cut school to run the streets and get in trouble; who would have thought that one of the most hallowed names in professional tennis came up under circumstances that are similar to what many kids experience today?

In American Masters presents Althea, director Rex Miller searches high and low for individuals who knew her first-hand and speak of the life of this relatively forgotten titan with accuracy and sincerity.

According to the film, Althea was dominant almost from the point she picked up a tennis racket. However, she felt out of place in a tennis world that was stuffy, upper class and that frowned upon out spoken women who walked to their own rhythm.

Slender, explosive and athletic, Althea Gibson would also go on to become the first Black woman on the Ladies Professional Golf Association. She would release an album of jazz standards and would graduate from Florida A&M University.

The 90-minute documentary features testimony from former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, tennis greats Dick Savitt and Bill Jean King, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, widow of Arthur Ashe, and more. It also reveals just how unappreciated Gibson was even at the height of her career.

The Shadow League was recently in attendance in Harlem at the ImageNation Raw Space for a screening of American Masters Presents Althea and a Q&A session led by ImageNation co-founder Moikgantsi Kgama and the film’s director Rex Miller. Check out the video of the session as well as a trailer for the film. 

American Masters Presents Althea premieres on PBS tonight at 9:00 pm. Check local listings for specifics.