Yesterday, after the USTA unveiled a striking new statue of the pioneer Althea Gibson, Inside Tennis had this dialogue with Serena:
Q. This morning a statue was unveiled for Althea Gibson. What message do you think it sends to have that statue here?
SERENA WILLIAMS: I think it sends a great message to me in particular, knowing her story, knowing Althea, what she went through. Being truly the first pioneer, an African American in tennis, just to a sport that wasn’t open to black people.
For her to now have a statue, all the things she’s done for people like me, people that look like me, to be in the sport now, it’s just astonishing.
Q. Venus earlier talked about her, how Althea went through an impossible situation so Venus didn’t have to go through it. She said she couldn’t imagine what kind of line calls Althea probably got through her career. Can you imagine what Althea went through in the ’50s when things were really different?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Well, no, I can’t. It’s a different age and a different time. I read her book. I read her having to sleep in cars because they wouldn’t allow her to be in the hotels. Even finding doubles partners was difficult for her. It’s just different times.
It’s obviously hard to imagine being in that position. But it’s also really important to be thankful and to know what she went through, to understand that’s why that statue is so important so others that are younger and, like I said, they can know what she went through.
No matter what color you are, you can definitely learn a lot about her story, the opportunities that she helped bring to tennis.
Q. Do you think Alice Marble, who wrote an incredible letter backing Althea, the British player Angela Buxton, her doubles partner – so many deserve credit – but those two helped a little bit?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Yeah, I think they obviously helped a lot. I actually know Angela. She was a pioneer in her own right, to stand up and say, “This isn’t right. Just because you look different, doesn’t mean you are different.”
We’re going through a lot of that now in general, as well. But I feel like we need people to fight for us, whether it is for equality, whether it is for racism.
We have to have people of all sorts to join the conversation and to be behind it or else change necessarily won’t come as fast as we would need it to.