A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
‘Whirlwind’ Finally Gets His Due
Leading the Induction Class of 2009 is nine-time Grand Slam Singles Champion and former World No. 1 Monica Seles. Joining Seles for Hall of Fame induction is one of Spain’s most prominent tennis players of the 1960s, Andres Gimeno, who has been elected in the Master Player category.
In addition, elected in the Contributor category are Donald L. Dell, an industry pioneer and leader in sports marketing, professional sports management and sports television and founder of ProServ; and the late Dr. Robert “Whirlwind” Johnson, founder and director of the American Tennis Association (ATA) Junior Development Program, who worked tirelessly for decades assisting in the development of young African-American tennis players while helping to break the barriers of racial segregation.
Johnson (1899-1971) is considered the man most responsible for launching the careers of world tennis greats Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe, the nation’s first African-American tennis champions. During a time of racial separation, Johnson, through quiet diplomacy, was able to open the doors of tournament competition to young African-Americans barred from mainstream competition.
He persevered, despite the racial barriers of that time, and through whispered entreaties and legal challenges he helped pave the way for minorities to gain entrance into tournaments and excel at the highest levels of the game.
For more than 20 years, Johnson’s home in Lynchburg, Virginia became the destination for talented black tennis players to receive training and to participate in integrated tournaments and exhibitions with the likes of Pauline Betz Addie and Bobby Riggs. He provided food, equipment, financial support and guidance throughout their development.
Through the American Tennis Association (ATA), which was formed in 1916, Johnson created the ATA Junior Development Program. In the 1950s and 1960s, he sponsored, trained and nurtured hundreds of African-American juniors – and several white juniors – at his Lynchburg home, where he had a tennis court in his backyard.
He initiated the integration of black tennis at the junior level, and ultimately at the highest levels of the game, working as coach, trainer, sponsor and fundraiser – and courageously approaching tournament directors and lobbying for his players’ full participation.
He was also publisher of the ATA’s annual program, distributed at the national championships, and his vehicle for informing the membership of the achievements of his junior players.
The names of Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe (both Hall of Famers) and their life achievements will long be remembered in the world of tennis; they were the African-American trailblazers and became champions of the sport through their discipline and perseverance.
However it was Johnson’s vision and innovative groundwork that gave Gibson and Ashe – and all future black champions – the training ground and road map to succeed.
“It is our great pleasure to welcome the newest members into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and to honor them for their brilliant careers and significant achievements in the sport of tennis,” said Clouser.
The Hall of Fame’s Class of 2009 Induction Ceremony is slated for Saturday, July 11 in Newport, Rhode Island.